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Baseball: UL sweeps ULM, claims No. 1 seed for Sun Belt tourney

Tim Buckley, May 22, 2016

UL coach Tony Robichaux did not want his Ragin’ Cajuns to know what was happening Saturday in a Sun Belt Conference game elsewhere that would impact his club’s fate.

After a while, however, Robichaux broke down and allowed the Cajuns to learn South Alabama had just lost at Troy, meaning all UL had to do was beat UL Monroe to claim a Sun Belt co-championship along with the Jaguars and the No. 1 seed in this week’s SBC Tournament hosted by Texas State in San Marcos, Texas.

“We told our players at the start of this we just were gonna bury our face and look up when it was time to look up,” Robichaux said. “But around the third or fourth inning, Bab (associate head coach Anthony Babineaux) went up and down the (dugout) and told ’em.

“It looked like we were struggling a bit as hitters,” Robichaux added, “so we said, ‘Let’s go tell ’em’ … and they went to work.”

The 37-19 Cajuns indeed took care of business, beating ULM 6-2 in their final regular-season game at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field before the 38-year-old stadium undergoes a $10 million-plus facelift.

Kyle Clement broke a 2-2 tie in a five-run fifth with a double to right that scored Joe Robbins and Alex Pinero, and Stefan Trosclair followed in the same inning with a two-run homer down the left-field line that gave the Cajuns a four-run cushion.

Chris Charpentier then closed with two scoreless innings in relief of starter Evan Guillory, who went seven.

“You know, on a hot day like (Saturday),” said Trosclair, who delivered a game-winning RBI double in the 11th inning late Friday night, “it gives you a little boost of energy (to learn South Al had lost) and that helped.”

To celebrate, some of UL’s eight seniors — including pitcher Nick Zaunbrecher and outfielder Brian Mills — doused Robichaux with an ice-bucket bath as the Cajuns earned a share of their second league title in three years, their third since 2010 and their sixth in SBC history.

With the same 21-9 Sun Belt record as South Alabama, UL shares the conference championship (league rules) but takes the No. 1 because it a head-to-head series 2-1.

The Cajuns open tourney play at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against No. 8 seed Arkansas State, from whom they took 2-for-3 in early April.

“We started a little slow, and we had to work through a lot of things,” said Robichaux, whose club opened the season 12-9. “But the credit is the players never quit, and that’s why they’re champions.

Just more than a week ago, UL’s chances of winning the top seed for the conference tourney looked bleak.

The Cajuns had just lost the first outing of a three-game Sun Belt series with a walk-off single in the ninth inning at South Alabama, and UL was four games behind then league-leader USA with five games to go.

But Robichaux’s team rebounded to take 2-of-3 in Mobile, then swept ULM for its ninth straight weekend series win and its 12th in 13 weekend series this season.

“The big thing is how we did it — by them staying together, and not falling apart when we had chances to fall apart,” Robichaux said. “You know, we went through everything we had to go through — through the losing, and the tough times, and trying to concentrate on pitching and defense.

“But the one common factor was the players decided to stay together,” he added. “When you stay together, man, great things can happen.”

It started Saturday with Clement singling to left, stealing second and scoring on Trosclair’s single up the middle to give UL an early lead in the opening inning.

Nick Thurman slides and touches home plate in UL'sBuy Photo

Nick Thurman slides and touches home plate in UL’s regular season-ending win over ULM on Saturday. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)

Danny Springer’s two-run homer in the top of the fifth, however, gave a 2-1 lead to the 20-35 Warhawks, who were eliminated from SBC tourney contention Friday night.

Cajuns catcher Nick Thurman answered in the bottom of the fifth, though, by doubling and later scoring on Pinero’s single and a same-play E4.

That ignited UL’s five-run fifth, and allowed Guillory (5-5) quite a comfy cushion for the last two innings of his outing.

“It was really big (to go seven), I think, for the team,” Guillory said, “because I know (Friday night) we used a lot of arms.

“(Saturday) Will Bacon (a fellow pitcher) joked with me. He was like, ‘You’re gonna have to go all nine, no matter what.’ I was like, ‘I’ll see what I can do, Bacon.’ It worked out well in the end.”

Guillory exited after 91 pitches.

Charpentier, making his first home appearance out of the bullpen in about two months, entered and allowed just two hits to preserve the victory.

“He was really, really good, and made, really, one mistake, and it left the yard,” Robichaux said of Guillory, who allowed just four hits and struck out six. “But that was it.

“From there, a guy — unsung hero — comes off the bench and gets those last six outs for us. … He (Charpentier) stepped up. Again, you can’t say enough about these guys.”

With those words, spoken almost two minutes after he started talking, Robichaux was drenched with bone-chilling water.

“I’ll get Zaunbrecher back,” the Cajun coach said of the pre-med major, a relief pitcher. “He may not make it to medical school.

“But, hey, I’ll take (the bath). That means something good’s happening.”

UL starter Evan Guillory went 7.0 innings in a winBuy Photo

UL starter Evan Guillory went 7.0 innings in a win over ULM on Saturday that clinched the No. 1 seed for the Cajuns in the upcoming Sun Belt tourney. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)