From the Bird’s Nest: S-W-E-E-P
Last year during their amazing run to the Sun Belt title, Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns swept five of their final six conference series, going 17-1 after a 4-8 start. And, because of that, one might think that getting a sweep over a conference foe is no big deal.
It's really hard to sweep a series, even at home. And, it's harder to do against a quality opponent.
But Sunday, the Cajuns accomplished something that not many around the league thought they could do. They got the sweep over the defending co-champions.
The formula was pretty much the same in all three games: Get good pitching (the Cajuns team ERA for the weekend was 1.67), play defense (Cajuns turned five double plays and fielded .984 for the weekend) and get timely hits (Cajuns hit .316 compared to FAU's .194).
Yesterday the Cajuns spotted FAU a 1-0 lead and for a while, it looked like it might hold up. Through four innings the Cajuns had just two infield singles off R. J. Alvarez. The sophomore righthander was really dealing and in the first four innings you could count the number of quality at-bats the Cajuns had on a closed fist.
But in the fifth, the Cajuns broke through and it was not pitching, not defense and not timely hitting that got it done.
It was a bit of daring-do on the basepaths.
Alex Fuselier laced a one out triple and Greg Fontenot was hit by a pitch. Jordan Porrier struck out, but Mike Petello walked to load the bases.
Now, I'm one of those folks who don't believe much in pitching from the windup with the bases loaded or with a man on third. The threat of a steal of home is always there and, if you get to a 3-2 count, everyone gets a real head start with two outs. Even if you choose to pitch from the windup, you just have to go to the stretch if the bases are loaded and the count is 3-2 with two outs.
Alvarez didn't do that and the Cajuns made him pay.
On a 3-2 pitch to Lance Marvel the runners took off. Marvel took ball four and the ball rolled away from catcher Mike Albaladejo.
Fontenot, running on the pitch from second, never stopped. And the Cajuns got a two-fer.
The play was big for two reasons. It got the Cajuns the lead. And, it got Alvarez out of the game. With exception of Fuselier's hit, the Cajuns hadn't come close to figuring Alvarez out. But because of the daring play, he was gone, and Daniel Nichols greeted reliever Josh Gonzaga with a single to plate the third run of the inning.
It stayed 3-1 til the seventh when T. J. Geith opened the inning by hitting Joey Burkhalter with a pitch. Coach Tony Robichaux turned to Matt Hicks, who got an out, but then gave up a hit, hit a batter, balked in a run and hit another batter. Exit the freshman, enter Joey Satriano. Satriano was the winning pitcher on Friday, throwing 45 pitches in four innings. He came in with the bases loaded in a one-run game, one out and the league's leading hitter, Alex Hudak at the plate. Satriano got Hudak looking at strike three and got Nick Delguidice to ground out to end the threat. Satriano walked two over the final two innings but didn't allow a hit in earning the save. The Cajuns, meanwhile, added two insurance runs in the seventh on a squeeze bunt by Tyler Frederick and an RBI single by Chris Sinclair to give themselves a three run cushion.
Pitching, defense and timely hitting gave the Cajuns a 4-0 record this week. But it was Coach Anthony Babineaux's decision to send Fontenot in the fifth inning that was the turning point.
Elsewhere around the Sun Belt:
Troy swept Arkansas State 1-0, 2-1 and 5-3 in Jonesboro (with the wind blowing in.) The Troy pitching staff did not give up an earned run over the weekend. Troy is 22-5, 8-1 in the Sun Belt. They are for real. They have the best 1-2 starting pitching duo in the league in Tyler Ray and Drew Hull.
Middle Tennessee won the rubber game of their three game series with South Alabama, getting a walk-off homer in the tenth on Sunday. MTSU is 2-7 in the league, USA is 4-5.
FIU got a complete game shutout as well on Sunday, hammering ULM 12-0 to win the rubber game of their three game series. Both teams are now 4-5 in league play.
WKU got ambushed in Little Rock. After hammering UALR on Friday, the Trojans came back to win both Saturday and Sunday. The usually reliable WKU defense cracked in those two games...very unusual for a Chris Finwood coached team. The losses dropped WKU into a tie with the Cajuns for second place at 6-3. UALR is now 4-5. The Trojans aren't the pushover this year that they've been in the past.
Now it's ten of eleven on the road for the Cajuns, beginning tomorrow night in Houston against Rice. Tony has tentatively named Jordan Nicholson has his starting pitcher. Then it's off to Bowling Green this weekend for three against the Hilltoppers.