LAFAYETTE, La. - Fourth-seeded Florida Atlantic walked away from the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament with the program's first-ever tournament title as the Owls defeated third-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette, 16-8, securing an NCAA tournament bid to the NCAA Regionals.
The Owls jumped out for nine runs on seven hits in the second inning and never relented or relinquished their lead despite a one hour and 46 minute lightning delay.
All nine FAU players scored a run in the game, all by the third inning. Following a two-run top of the first, the Owls erupted for nine in the second. Mitch Morales brought home the first run with a bunt single with Levi Meyer on third base. Mark Nelson and Tyler Rocklein knocked in RBI hits and Sanger doubled over the left-fielder’s head to bring in a pair. SBC Tournament Most Outstanding Player Brendon Sanger stole third and scored on a throwing error by the catcher and Ricky Santiago cleaned the bases in his second at-bat of the inning with a two-run homer down the right field line.
The Owls (39-20) tacked on a couple more in the third inning to increase their lead to 13-1. Nathan Pittman led off the third inning with a double to right field and advanced to third on a single by Geoff Jimenez. Nelson then singled up the middle to score Pittman, and Rocklein hit a sacrifice fly to left field to bring in Jimenez.
“We definitely wanted to come out here and prove to everyone that we could win and get an automatic regional bid,” said Nelson, a senior from Orlando, Fla. “Our offense is pretty streaky but whenever we get something going we try to do it for the whole game and it happened to be 16 runs so I’ll take it. It’s always been my goal to win the regular season and tournament championship, so to be able to do one of those is really special. We are a hard working team with high expectations so I’m glad we could finish it off on such a good note.”
The Cajuns got one back in the third inning on a solo home run by Kjerstad to left field to make it 13-2. It was the 12th homer of the year for the junior from Amarillo, Texas and the Cajuns' 71st home run of the season.
FAU added another run in the top of the fourth as the Cajuns went to Matt Hicks out of the bullpen. Hicks pitched 3.1 innings of relief allowing one run in the fourth and two in the seventh. He gave the Cajuns a chance to get back in the game in the middle innings as he allowed just three hits in his appearance.
The Cajuns (41-18) continued to battle at the plate and cut the lead to 14-4 in the fourth inning on a two-run double by Blake Trahan down the left field line. The hit scored Ryan Leonards who singled to right, and Tyler Girouard who singled through the right side. The Cajun threat ended with the bases loaded and a fly out by Jace Conrad.
After a pair of scoreless innings, the Owls got back as Pittman tripled down the right field to score Morales after he walked in the seventh inning. Pittman scored on a groundout giving FAU a 16-4 edge.
The Cajuns responded with a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame to lower FAU's lead to ten at 16-6. Seth Harrison singled to center and scored on an RBI double by Caleb Adams into the gap in right-center. Adams then scored on a fielding error at third base in the next at-bat.
In the eighth, Chase Compton teed-off on the Cajuns' 72nd home run of the season, a long-ball to right field to make it 16-7 in favor of the Owls.
At 4:06 p.m. local time the game underwent a one hour and 46 minute lightning delay. Strikes continued until 5:07 local time and the game resumed at approximately 5:52 p.m. CT. The Owls were held scoreless in the final two frames while the Cajuns were able to add another run in the bottom of the ninth.
FAU’s Austin Gomber earned the win for the Owls and improved to 7-4 overall and 2-0 in the tournament.
FAU will now wait to see where the NCAA Selection Committee will place the Owls. The NCAA Selection Show will air on ESPNU at 11:00 a.m. CT. on Monday, May 27. The Cajuns also hopes to hear their names called on Monday as an at-large selection to the tournament.