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Baseball: Cajuns rally from big deficit to sweep

UL falls behind 7-0, finishes with 11-9 win

MONROE – UL’s baseball team hadn’t had a lot of experience in rallying from a big, early deficit this season, but the Ragin’ Cajuns learned that under fire here Sunday.

Because of that, the Cajuns find themselves knocking on the door of a second Sun Belt Conference regular-season title in three season.

The Cajuns trailed host UL Monroe 7-0 after three innings, but watched their bats come alive in a big way and got a third straight solid bullpen performance in an 11-9 victory over the Warhawks that wrapped up a three-game conference sweep.

UL (35-13, 18-6 Sun Belt) scored 11 unanswered runs before ULM made things interesting on A. J. Siggers’ two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth. However, Matt Pilgreen came on as the Cajuns’ sixth pitcher and forced Andy Jones to ground out to end the game.

"There wasn’t any panic," said senior righthander Andrew Laughter, who contributed three scoreless innings to that pen effort and picked up his first win. "The good thing about them getting all those runs early is that we still had a lot of game left. Our hitters are going to come at you the rest of the game.

The Cajuns pounded out 19 hits, their most since the first of April, and got 16 of those over the last six innings.

The bulk of that came after Warhawk starter David Mixon left the game after one batter in the sixth inning, having thrown 126 pitches by that time.

"He’s a good arm," Cajun coach Tony Robichaux said of Mixon. "He held us down, but the heat finally got to him. If this had been a night game, he might have finished us."

As it was, the Cajuns ripped ULM’s bullpen for four runs in the seventh and three more in the ninth to finish off their biggest comeback of the year.

"We knew we could come back," said Cajun catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who had four hits including a solo homer in the seventh that broke a 7-7 tie. "We were getting their pitch count up and able to get into their pen and take advantage."

The victory keeps UL four games ahead in the conference race with six to play. The Cajuns can lock up the regular-season title with a sweep at home next weekend against Arkansas-Little Rock.

The Warhawks (27-23, 14-12) got to Cajun starter Brent Solich early, with Bo Bowman cracking a solo home run in the second on his way to hitting for the cycle – only the second player in ULM history to accomplish that feat. The Warhawks then added six more runs in the third, five of them after a controversial play that appeared to end the inning with ULM getting only one run.

After Kyle Suire’s homer made it 2-0, ULM loaded the bases and got another run when reliever Buddy Glass hit Greg Manley with a pitch. Josh Morrison followed with a sinking liner to left field that Jefferies Tatford made a shoestring catch on.

Third-base runner Dexter Fontenot didn’t appear to tag up and ran for the plate after the catch. Tatford threw into third for an apparent double play and third-base umpire Eddie Loggins raised his fist indicating the out, and the Cajun defense left the field.

However, after an extended huddle, home-plate umpire Greg Oros ruled that Fontenot had tagged and scored, nullified the out and counted the run. Travis Drader followed with a two-run double and Jones singled in the inning’s sixth run for the 7-0 lead.

UL cut into the lead on Josh Logan’s RBI single and Devon Bourque’s two-run double in the fourth, got one more in the sixth when Kolin Hatfield’s two-out single plated Jefferies Tatford, and then took the lead with a four-spot in the seventh off three Warhawk pitchers.

Senior Matt Casbon’s leadoff homer, the first of his UL career, made it 7-5 and chased reliever A.J. Ford, and three batters later Matt Hicks tied the game with his second homer of the series on a 3-2 changeup from Bucky Chandler.

"First base was open, but Devo (Bourque) had been hot and I didn’t think they wanted to pitch to him," Hicks said. "It took so much for us to come back, but going around the bases it seemed like it went really fast."

One out later, Lucroy laced Jared Jennings’ second pitch over the left-field wall for the go-ahead run.

UL added three in the top of the ninth on back-to-back bouncing singles by Xavier Alexander and Hatfield through a drawn-in ULM infield, and Casbon lifted a sacrifice fly that scored Tatford for a four-run advantage that became huge in the ninth when Siggers caught up with a Gregory Harmon pitch for his fifth homer.

Other than that homer, Justin Robichaux, Laughter, Harmon and Pilgreen combined to scatter five hits and strike out six over the final six and one-third innings.

"The bullpen did another great job," Tony Robichaux said, "and having the depth we have really helped us. We were able to get rid of their starter and get into their bullpen."

 Zoom Photo

Arely D. Castillo/The (Monroe) News-Star

ULM’s Matt Laird (21) sprints to first base as UL’s Matt Casbon (12) stretches out to attempt to make the play.

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The Cajuns will return home for a three-game Sun Belt series against Arkansas-Little Rock this weekend.