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Baseball: Dramatic victory

FIU's Oscar Aguirre (8), left, slides into home plate as UL catcher Michael Strentz (11) makes the catch during the fourth inning of a Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament game Wednesday at Tigue Moore Field. 
FIU’s Oscar Aguirre (8), left, slides into home plate as UL catcher Michael Strentz (11) makes the catch during the fourth inning of a Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament game Wednesday at Tigue Moore Field. / Paul Kieu/pkieu@theadvertiser.com

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 23, 2013

A fireworks show followed UL’s opening-round game Wednesday night in the eight-team, double-elimination Sun Belt Conference baseball tournament at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

Credit infielder Jace Conrad, UL’s usual No. 9 hitter, with setting it off.

Conrad, hitting Wednesday out of the No. 2 spot, delivered a three-run, walk-off home run to break a tie as the No. 3-seed Ragin’ Cajuns beat No. 6-seeded Florida International 9-6.

“We put ourselves in a position to get it done, and Jace got it done,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said as explosives lit the sky. “That was huge. …That’s real fireworks right there.”

Tied 5-5 with two out in the top of the ninth, FIU centerfield Roche Woodard dropped a flare to right off of Matt Hicks to score shortstop Edwin Rios and go up 6-5.

But Ryan Leonards singled to left to lead off the bottom of the ninth, and Michael Strentz was hit for a school-record 20th time to put runners on first and second.

It initially appeared that it was ruled Strentz had hit a foul ball, but the call – after Cajun coaches exloded themselves – correctly wound up as hit-by-pitch.

“I thought they did a great job by making the call right,” Robichaux said of umpire who met on the field for a few minutes before allowing Strentz to stay at first.

Chase Compton followed with an E1-sacrifice bunt to load the bases, and Leonards slid under the throw to home on Dex Kjerstad’s sacrifice fly to centerfield to tie it at 6.

Up stepped Conrad, who blasted Mitchell Davis’ offering.

“I was 100 percent sure a fastball was coming,” Conrad said.

And it did.

“We should have beat that team by 10 runs,” said Conrad, who went 4-for-5 with four RBIs. “We knew we were going to win that game.”

UL now will play No. 2 seed South Alabama in a winner’s bracket game at 7:30 tonight.

FIU did most of its damage during a seven-hit, five-run fourth inning in which starter Cody Boutte was chased.

UL had jumped to a 1-0 lead when leadoff hitter Kjerstad walked, stole second, moved third on Conrad’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Seth Harrison’s RBI groundout.

It stayed that way until FIU used five straight singles to score three runs off of Boutte in the fourth. He was relieved by Ben Carter, but the Panthers kept on hitting, making it 5-1 before UL got out of the troublesome half-inning.

The Cajuns got two back in the bottom of the fourth, when Dylan Butler singled, advanced to third on Strentz’s double and scored on Compton’s RBI groundout.

Kjerstad’s double to the right-field wall scored Strentz, pulling UL to within a couple runs.

The Cajuns got another in the sixth, when Strentz beat a throw on an infield single and Conrad dropped a double just inside the left-field line to score Strentz and make it 5-4.

With relievers Kody Smith, Kendall Mayer and Hicks coming out the bullpen to keep FIU quiet for a few innings – Mayer threw one pitch to get out of the seventh, then recorded the first two outs of the eighth before Hicks got out of the half with a strikeout – UL made up the difference in bottom of the eighth.

Kjerstad and Conrad both singled and Tyler Girouard walked to load the bases, and UL home-run leader Caleb Adams walked as well to tie it with his 47th RBI of the season.

LAGNIAPPE: Ryan Wilson (5-4) for the win for UL. … Compton got the start at first base for UL and Conrad moved from first to second, leaving utilityman Leonards out of UL’s starting lineup. … Leonards entered as a late-game replacement in left field after Butler off first was pulled for pinch-runner Joe Robbins. … Kjerstad and Strentz both had three hits.

South Alabama 10, UALR 2

Second-seeded South Alabama scored four runs in the bottom of the first and third innings and cruised to a 10-2 win over seventh-seeded UALR on Wednesday afternoon in game three of the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

USA (41-16) advances to face the FIU-UL at 7:30 p.m. today in the winner’s bracket while UALR (28-27) will face the loser of game 4 at 12:30 p.m. CT on Thursday.

Jag starter Anthony Izzio picked up the win for the Jags as he went eight solid innings giving up just the two earned runs on seven hits. He struck out three Trojans and walked one in the outing.

“I felt comfortable, but I can’t give enough credit to the guys behind me. They made it look a lot easier than it was out there and all the credit goes to them,” said Izzio, a Vancleave, Miss. product. “We are a resilient group and we knew we had to win game one. We will come out ready tomorrow and hopefully this carries over.”

Troy 3, Arkansas State 2

Top-seeded Troy advanced in the second game of the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championship with a 3-2 victory over eighth-seeded Arkansas State at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

The Red Wolves (26-30, 12-18 SBC) trailed 3-0 in the ninth inning when they plated a pair of runs and had the tying run on first base with two outs, but Troy’s (40-16, 20-10) Nate Hill fired a strikeout to end the threat.

Jeremy McGowan (1-0) picked up his first win of the season after striking out five batters in 3.1 scoreless innings. Levi Tate started the game for Troy and pitched 2.1 innings of shutout ball with four strikeouts.

Trae Santos got the Trojans on the board in the second inning with a solo homer to right field. It was the 16th homer of the year for the junior from Barrigada, Guam.

“I was pretty sure it was gone, I hit it really well. I guessed wrong on the pitch but thankfully I was able to see it out of the pitcher’s hand and put a good swing on it. [Daniel] Wright did a great job of keeping us off-balance today and he pitched really well,” said Santos. “Our main goal was to win the top-seed. It’s really gratifying knowing that we achieved that goal. It was a long, tough journey but I’m glad we could pull it out.”

FAU 5, W. Kentucky 4

Fourth-seeded Florida Atlantic held onto defeat fifth-seeded WKU, 5-4, in game one of the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament held at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field in Lafayette, La despite a brief delay from inclement weather.

FAU moves onto Thursday’s winner’s bracket and will face the winner of game two of the tournament between top-seeded Troy and eighth-seeded Arkansas State at 4 p.m. The Owls have now won eight consecutive games.

The Owls (36-20) struck first in the bottom of the first inning plating four runs in the inning. FAU’s Nathan Pittman, the leadoff hitter, reached first on a fielding error by WKU’s Steve Hodgins. Levi Meyer of FAU then singled, advancing Pittman to second. A wild pitch moved Pittman to third and Meyer to second.

Mark Nelson was then walked. Tyler Rocklein flied out to right field scoring Pittman on the sac-fly. Brendon Sanger then tripled to right center scoring both Meyer and Nelson. Corey Keller flew out to center scoring Sanger from third for the fourth and final run of the inning.

“I feel really comfortable at the plate right now. I’ve been seeing a lot of pitches and seeing them well,” said Sanger, a freshman from Fort Myers, Fla. “We’re on a roll right now and I hope we can keep it going and do big things at this tournament. We are pitching well, fielding well and really hitting the ball.”