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Baseball: Masterful relief – Plitt helps Cajuns finish off weekend sweep

Tim Buckley, Daily Advertiser, March 10, 2014

Click here for digital photo gallery of Sunday’s game.

UL second baseman Jace Conrad (19) completes an out at first base during Sunday’s 7-1 win in which he drove in three more runs at the plate. / Paul Kieu/The Advertiser

UL baseball coach Tony Robichaux tells his pitchers all the time to stay prepared.

Matt Plitt was Sunday, and when called on earlier than expected the senior righty from Texas City, Texas, responded with 5.1 innings of no-run, one-hit relief work in a 7-2 win over Texas Southern in front of 3,461 at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

With the combined three-hit victory the No. 7 Ragin’ Cajuns swept TSU of the SWAC in their three-game non-conference weekend series and improved to 13-2, marking their best 15-game start since opening 14-1 in 2005.

Plitt was called on after Greg Milhorn had to exit in the top of the third inning.

A pulled left-side oblique (stomach) muscle prevented UL’s No. 3 starter from continuing, but Plitt didn’t seem flustered at all by the short notice.

“Everybody should be ready to go,” he said, “and I was ready.”

After just a few tosses to loosen his arm – “It doesn’t me long to warm up,” he said – Plitt went right to work.

He entered with UL trailing 1-0 and two out but one on, and after walking the first batter he faced, Zach Welz, quickly got Conor Dishman to ground out 4-3.

Robichaux wasn’t surprised at all to see the versatile Plitt – who is sometimes a midweek starter, but works mostly out of the bullpen – do what he did after that.

He merely pitched five straight scoreless innings, facing just two more than minimum in that stretch and retiring the last nine batters he faced in order.

No Tiger hitter got past first on Plitt, who picked up his first win of the season (1-0).

“If you stay ready,” Robichaux said, “you don’t have to get ready.”

And Plitt, even though just two of first seven were strikes, was as ready he could be for the long haul.

“Our sticks weren’t there for the early, middle part of the game,” UL shortstop Blake Trahan, “and he kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win.”

UL tied it at 1-1 in the sixth, when Seth Harrison ripped a double to left, moved to third on a balk and scored on when Jace Conrad hit into a fielder’s choice.

Cajun base-runner Caleb Adams was at first at the time, having been intentionally walked.

Adams wisely slowed down before being tagged out to give Conrad time to reach first and avoid what would have been an inning-ending double play, and that allowed Harrison to come across from third.

UL bats, though, didn’t really catch a break until a five-hit, six-run seventh.

“We were hitting it hard,” Trahan said. “We were hitting it right at ’em, and we knew eventually hits were gonna start falling.”

They did as UL opened the seventh with Chase Compton’s single and two walks to load the bases.

Trahan then bounced a no-outs, two-RBI single past TSU third baseman Sayvon O’Neal to score Compton and Dylan Butler, and Harrison singled to shallow right to score Michael Strentz and make it 4-1.

Before the seventh was done Conrad sent a two-run single through the hole between short and third that scored Trahan and Harrison, and Ryan Leonards doubled in Conrad to make it 7-1.

Conrad’s last two RBIs were his ninth and 10th of the three-game series.

The Lafayette High product also drove in the winning run in the ninth inning of UL’s 5-4 win Friday, had a grand slam in Saturday’s 13-0 victory and finished Sunday with three RBIs.

“That was a clutch hit – an off-speed pitch he took the other way,” Robichaux said of Conrad, who also had three steals in the series vs. now 5-11 Texas Southern.

Freshman Reagan Bazar threw the ninth for UL and gave up one hit, a solo home run to Samuel Terry – the first homer yielded by a Cajun pitcher this season.

It remains to be seen if Milhorn, meanwhile, will be available when the Cajuns, who have a midweek game Tuesday night at Tulane, open Sun Belt Conference play next weekend at UL Monroe.

Robichaux said it’s believed the injury is not “that bad,” but on Sunday it was too early to tell if the junior righty will be ready to make his next start.

“We’ll aggressively treat him … and get going and try to get him back up and running,” Robichaux said, “because we’re gonna need him.”

If Milhorn can’t go Sunday, Robichaux said either midweek starter Cody Boutte, a weekend starter last season, or Plitt could get the call.

LAGNIAPPE: Harrison had a team-high five hits and Trahan had four RBI over the weekend, and Butler was 4-for-7 (.571) in two games. … The Cajuns drew 10,839 for the three-game series. It was their third straight series in three weekends this season with more than 10,000. This weekend’s crowd was the second-largest in UL history, topping only by 12,075 in a 2-1 win the prior weekend against then-No. 21 Alabama. … UL is now 15-0 all-time vs. Texas Southern, which had just 10 hits all weekend.