LAFAYETTE, La. - Jace Conrad capped a four-run bottom-of-the-ninth inning with a three-run walk-off home run as third-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette defeated sixth-seeded FIU, 9-6, on Thursday at the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championship at M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field.
Conrad, a sophomore playing in his hometown, ripped a 1-0 pitch over the wall in right field to send the Cajuns faithful into a joyous frenzy in the stands.
“I got up there trying to hit something right back up the middle. He threw me a fastball which I was looking for on the first pitch but I got a slider instead. The pitcher didn’t want to fall behind 2-0 so I figured he was coming with something hard. I knew I got a good piece of it but I still ran it out, hoping it would get over the fence,” Conrad said.
The Cajuns (39-17) trailed 6-5 heading into the ninth inning when they started their rally. Ryan Leonards singled to left field and Michael Strentz was hit by a pitch to put two on with no outs. Chase Compton laid down a sacrifice bunt that was miss-handled by the pitcher and all runners were safe to load the bases. Louisiana-Lafayette got its first run of the frame on a sacrifice fly to center field by Dex Kjerstad. Conrad then drilled his fourth hit of the game in dramatic fashion.
“We have the same mentality every game. Whether we are down 15-0 or up 15-0 we are going to keep coming, hustling and doing our thing,” Conrad said. “This is a big win. It’s something for us to build off of. We have to come out here and win the game tomorrow and win the tournament.”
Ryan Wilson (5-4) came in as the sixth pitcher for the Cajuns and earned the win after retiring the only batter he faced in the ninth inning. Cody Boutte started and allowed three earned runs in 3.1 innings.
Ben Carter, Kody Smith and Kendall Mayer kept the Panthers scoreless out of the bullpen. Matt Hicks allowed one run in his only inning pitched.
The game was tied 5-5 when FIU (25-31) got the go-ahead run in the top-of-the-ninth. Roche Woodard, a sophomore from Tampa, Fla., doubled down the right field line to score Edwin Rios from second base. Rios had singled up the middle to lead-off the inning and advanced to second on a ground out.
FIU trailed 1-0 in the fourth inning when it plated its first five runs. After Aramis Garcia reached on an error, consecutive singles from Rios and Josh Anderson loaded the bases with no outs. Three straight RBI singles from Oscar Aguirre, Woodard and Zach Sweety put the Panthers ahead, 3-1. Julius Gaines kept the rally going with an RBI single and the Panthers increased the lead to 5-1 on an infield single by Garcia.
The Cajuns got a pair back in the bottom of the frame as an RBI groundout by Chase Compton marked the first tally. Dylan Butler scored on the play. Butler had knocked a single to center and moved to third on a double by Strentz. Kjerstad ripped a double to right field to score Strentz and cut the deficit to 5-3.
Louisiana-Lafayette made it a one-run game in the sixth inning when Conrad blooped a double down the left field line with two outs to score Strentz from second. Strentz had reached on an infield single and advanced to second on a groundout.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning, Caleb Adams drew a walk for the Cajuns to tie the game, 5-5. Kjerstad and Conrad had registered singles and Tyler Girouard walked to set it up.
The Cajuns played small ball in the first inning to take an early 1-0 lead. Kjerstad walked to start the frame and stole second. He advanced to third on a bunt and scored on an RBI groundout from Seth Harrison.
Mitchell Davis (6-3) recorded the loss for FIU after pitching 0.2 innings. Mike Franco started for the Panthers and struck out seven in 5.2 innings. Alberto Cardenas tossed two of relief and struck out five.
Rios and Anderson each recorded three hits to highlight the Panthers lineup. Rios also scored a pair of runs while Anderson touched home once.
Louisiana-Lafayette advances to the winner’s bracket on Thursday and will face second-seeded South Alabama at 7:30 p.m. CT. FIU will take on seventh-seeded UALR in an elimination game at 12:30 p.m. CT on Thursday.