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Baseball: Ragin’ Cajuns beat Warhawks 7-3 for 50th win this season

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 22, 2014

MOBILE, Ala. – It was just a matter of time.

So figured UL baseball coach Tony Robichaux as his Ragin’ Cajuns outlasted UL Monroe starter Tyler Bray and beat ULM 7-3 Wednesday in the opening round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament at Stanky Field here.

Robichaux sensed things could be tough against Bray, but also suspected Cajun hitters would answer the call if his own starter – son Austin Robichaux – could just contain the Warhawks.

That’s precisely how it unfolded.

"These guys, they’ve got potential to have an ‘inning’ every inning. That’s the greatest thing about these hitters," Tony Robichaux said of a Cajun club that went into the tourney with the country’s second-best batting average (.319) and second-highest home run count (61).

UL used a four-run eighth inning to break open a 3-3 game as Tyler Girouard started things off with an infield single, and he, Jace Conrad, Caleb Adams and Michael Strentz all scored in the eighth.

Girouard had two hits for UL, Strentz had two RBIs, Conrad scored two runs and usual reserve Kyle Clement – starting in right field – went 2-for-3 at the plate with one RBI and two runs scored.

As a result of bats that came alive, UL – ranked No. 2 nationally and seeded No. 1 in the eight-team, double-elimination tourney – advances to play Texas State in a winner’s-bracket game at 4 p.m. today.

The Bobcats beat Western Kentucky 4-3 in 10 innings Wednesday morning, rallying from 3-0 down with three runs in the bottom of the ninth and one in the 10th.

After beating ULM (22-35) for the 13th straight time and the seventh time this year, the Cajuns also improved to 50-7 and set a school record for victories in a season.

"Beating a team for the 13th (consecutive) time," Robichaux said, "is not easy."

It certainly wasn’t in this instance.

But Austin Robichaux helped make it happen by lasting 7.0 innings while allowing just two runs and five hits, and Matt Plitt (2-0) did his part by pitching 1.1 scoreless, hit-free innings for the win.

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Plitt, who entered in the eighth after Ryan Wilson yielded a run, shut the Warhawks down in the top of the ninth.

UL found itself down 2-0 as ULM got to Robichaux early with a two-RBI single up the middle from Ross Moore in the top of the first.

The Cajuns, though, got one back in the third, when Clement singled, moved to third on Blake Trahan’s double to left and scored on Ryan Leonards’ sacrifice fly to centerfield.

They tied it in the fifth, when Clement – again reaching on a single – scored on Seth Harrison’s groundout.

And they went up 3-2 in the sixth, when Conrad walked, stole second and advanced to third on a same-play throwing error, and scored on Strentz’s sacrifice fly to centerfield.

Critical for UL was getting out of the top of the sixth, when Robichaux allowed a leadoff triple to Kodie Tidwell, then escaped trouble with two groundball outs and a strikeout.

He also got out of the fifth with a double play initiated by Conrad, and struck out the final two batters he faced in the seventh.

"Usually with me it takes me an inning or two to get my groove," said Robichaux, who exited with seven strikeouts. "Once I found it, I just settled in and let my hitters take it from there."

ULM tied it at 3-3 in the top of the eighth, though, as Anthony Herrera reached on Leonards’ fielding error and later scored as Moore reached on a fielder’s choice.

That’s when UL, which struggled for a second straight game against Warhawks pitcher Bray, feasted ULM’s relief pitching.

Bray went a strong 7.1 innings in a 14-inning regular-season loss to UL last Saturday, and allowed only five hits and the three runs in 7.0 innings Wednesday.

"We knew this guy was gonna be stingy. He was stingy on us last time," Tony Robichaux said of Bray, a senior sinkerballer who threw 186 pitches in the two outings combined (including 97 Wednesday) and flustered Cajun hitters with many of them. "So our biggest thing was to try to keep the game as close as we could."

The Cajuns did just that, then took control.

Alex Dumaine struggled from the get-go in the eighth as both Conrad and Adams walked to load the bases after Girouard had beaten out a grounder to short.

Girouard scored on Chase Compton’s sacrifice fly to centerfield, Strentz singled up the middle to score Conrad, Adams scored on a wild pitch and Clement pushed across Strentz with a squeeze bunt.

"Those guys (the Warhawks) gave us a lot of stuff," said Conrad, named Sun Belt Player of the Year one night earlier. "That’s why we were able to put up seven runs on them."

Patience proved important for UL too, especially in running up Bray’s pitch count.

"We felt if we get (Bray) out of the game, we would have a great chance," Tony Robichaux said. "We felt their bullpen would be a weakness, so the hitters did a great job."