Welcome back, Ragin’ Cajuns.
Less than 24 hours after being on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history, No. 1-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette knocked out San Diego State 9-2 on Saturday afternoon.
Carson Baranik and Matt Plitt held down the Aztecs hitters, and Seth Harrison, Ryan Leonards and Blake Trahan took turns turning apparent hits and runs into outs.
Then there was the missing ingredient from the 1-0 loss to Jackson State on Friday — timely hitting.
Check, check and check.
“We try to pitch, try to play defense,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said, “and we got timely hitting, so we feel better about ourselves.” Robichaux said the performance washed away “the stench” of Friday night.
Like the Cajuns hitters, Baranik was in bounce-back mode as he returned to the mound for the first time since a season-worst outing nine days earlier in the Sun Belt Conference tournament. The conference’s pitcher of the year lasted just 2.1 innings and allowed seven hits and four runs to Texas State.
On Saturday, he went 6.1 innings, throwing 110 pitches in stifling heat and limiting the Aztecs to six hits and two runs.
“I was able to locate the ball down more,” Baranik said. “It helped getting some offense early and helped everyone settle in and get some confidence and really get going.”
Tyler Girouard’s RBI single in the top of the first gave Baranik a lead before he went to the mound. Michael Strentz’s three-run homer and Trahan’s RBI-single in the second gave him a cushion.
“Carson stood up and ate up some innings in some heat,” Robichaux said. “He gave our hitters a chance to settle in from last night’s game.”
Robichaux tweaked his batting order, most notably moving Trahan, who was the Most Outstanding Player in the Sun Belt tournament and had three hits Friday, from No. 9 to No. 3 and dropping Harrison, who had five straight hitless games going into Saturday, from No. 2 to No. 7.
Trahan continued his hot-hitting with three more hits, and Harrison had three and two runs batted in.
“We wanted to drop (Harrison) a little bit and try to get him going,” Robichaux said. “We got him going, which was huge. You want to try to pick up guys along the way. These guys eat up a lot of pitch counts, and when there isn’t a hole in the lineup, it’s tough to maneuver through.”
Robichaux said it helped to face “more of a traditional pitcher” after Jackson State’s Vincent Anthonia confounded the UL-Lafayette hitters with change-up after change-up.
“We made sure we stayed back and hunted the monster,” Harrison said. That’s Cajun for laying off breaking balls and waiting for fastballs.
“Our M.O. is kind of hunting the fastball to try and neutralize that and it’s kind of hard to do that when the guy’s throwing only 81 (mph),” said Leonards, who had two hits and scored two runs. “We had a tough time with that (Friday), but (Saturday) we did a good job with it.”
The result was 15 hits and more importantly run-producing hits.
Robichaux and the players had to wait for the outcome of the night game between Jackson State and Mississippi State to know who their opponent would be at 1 p.m. Sunday. It really didn’t matter because the Cajuns have to beat the loser first and the winner twice after that to advance.
“Our biggest opponent is us,” Robichaux said. “(Saturday) we handled us. (Sunday) all we have to do is handle us. It really won’t have anything to do with who’s sitting across in that dugout. (Saturday) our guys did a great job of coming back to work and handling us.”
They’re looked like the team that was 53-7 heading into this regional.
Robichaux said the Cajuns haven’t sought any “false motivation” and don’t need any now.
“The honor and the privilege to have coached this team this year is that they don’t need anything,” he said. “They don’t need to have redemption against Jackson State or be madder now. These guys are as mad as hornets every day that they play.
“There are two types of teams. One enters the arena for attention and the other enters the arena for the honor and the privilege to compete. This team doesn’t come to the arena for attention. It comes to compete.”