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Baseball: UL wins Sun Belt by record margin

Cajuns’ reward is game against host S. Alabama

NEW ORLEANS – The UL baseball team won the Sun Belt Conference regular-season title by the largest margin in league history.

The Ragin’ Cajuns’ reward for that historic feat? They get to play the host team at a late-night hour Wednesday to open up the Sun Belt Tournament.

The Cajuns, even with Saturday’s 9-3 loss at New Orleans, finished with a 23-7 record. UNO, Middle Tennessee and Troy all tied for second at 16-14, giving UL a seven-game advantage over the rest of the field. The previous biggest margin was six games, and the last time that happened was when the Cajuns won the regular season by six games a decade ago in 1997.

"They’re still the team to beat," said UNO coach Tom Walter, who got his first-ever win over the Cajuns in three seasons Saturday. "They’re the class of the league going into the tournament."

UL will face South Alabama at USA’s Stanky Field in the final game of Wednesday’s opening day. The time is listed as 7:30 p.m., but it is the fourth game of the day and almost definitely won’t start that early.

UL coach Tony Robichaux, for one, doesn’t mind the late hour.

"It’s important to play at night this time of year," he said. "When we’ve done well in the tournament we’ve kept winning and didn’t have those hot day games."

If the Cajuns continue to win in the tournament, they would play the late game on each of the tournament’s first three days prior to the Saturday championship round.

THE HOST IS IN: South Alabama made it into the field by winning Friday and Saturday home games over Troy after losing on Thursday. If USA (29-24, 13-16) had not taken its 8-1 win Saturday, either Florida International or Arkansas State could have claimed the eighth and final spot with a victory – and ASU got close with a 4-1 win over Arkansas-Little Rock on Saturday.

"It doesn’t matter who we play right now," said Cajun outfielder Nolan Gisclair. "We’re a pretty confident group, and you’ve got to beat everybody there eventually."

GLASS’ PAIN: UL starter Buddy Glass struggled in his return to a starting assignment, only throwing 10 pitches to UNO’s first four batters Saturday and not recording an out. All four Privateer batters he faced got hits, including T. J. Baxter’s two-run homer and Brandon Bowser’s leadoff triple.

"I hope it was more location than velocity," Glass said afterward. "I’m hoping it was just from being rusty."

Glass (7-3) was UL’s Friday night conference starter most of the season, but missed that assignment two weeks ago with stiffness in his neck and shoulder. The problems were diagnosed as stemming from an auto accident from early in the fall semester.

"That’s what happens when you’re rusty," Robichaux said. "We had some guys that needed to come in and throw and we got that, but we really need to get the Buddy Glass we know back. We’re hoping we can do that for the tournament."

IMPETUS: UL came into Saturday’s game riding an eight-game win streak. The Cajuns won 10 in a row to start the season and had an eight-game run in late March.

"If we were going to win eight of nine, I’m glad we dropped the last one," Robichaux said. "That leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths, and I think that will help us heading into South Alabama."

We obviously had a letdown today pitching and defense-wise, so we’re hoping we can stay away from letdowns in the tournament."

RECORDS: Cajun junior catcher Jonathan Lucroy moved into the UL record book two more times Saturday. His fifth-inning ground-rule double gave him 54 doubles for his career, passing the mark of 53 set by Oswaldo Aguirre (1994-97) 10 seasons ago.

That hit also boosted him to 155 total bases this season, snapping the single-season record of 154 set by Papo Ramos in 1992.

The 23 total conference victories was the second-most in school history behind the 24 Sun Belt wins in 1999, and was the third-highest total league wins in Sun Belt history. South Alabama had 27 wins during that 1999 season.

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Brad Kemp/bkemp@theadvertiser.com

UL’s Devon Bourque (8) waits for the ball has UNO’s Drew Anderson (17) steals second during their game Saturday.