LAFAYETTE — After throwing a gem of a game only to come up on the short end of a 1-0 score in his previous start in the NCAA regional opener, UL-Lafayette pitcher Austin Robichaux wasn’t that dominant early Saturday night.
But Robichaux was plenty good enough in the middle innings, especially after the booming UL-Lafayette bats came alive in the third inning of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ super regional opener with Ole Miss in Moore Field.
Robichaux gave up three runs in the top of the second inning but then settled down until the UL-Lafayette offense came to his aid with a run in its half of the second and five more in the third en route to a 9-5 victory.
“We knew the game tonight was going to be tough because we were playing a well-coached team,” said UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux, Austin’s father. “We knew we had to try to hold them down and stay away from the three-run inning. Austin kind of lost his groove in the second inning and couldn’t find it. But then he got in a groove again, mainly with his changeup. That got us going.”
With another win in the second game of the best-of-three series at 8 p.m. Sunday, top-ranked UL-Lafayette will advance to the College World Series for the first time since 2000 — thanks in part to the younger Robichaux’s stellar effort.
Robichaux (8-3) battled for seven innings and threw 116 pitches — 71 for strikes — before Matt Plitt came on to start the eighth.
“I thought Austin Robichaux maybe struggled a little early, but he kind of found himself and got deep into the game,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “That’s what you want from your ace.”
It’s certainly what the Ragin’ Cajuns needed after the rough start allowed Ole Miss (41-19) to hand ace right-hander Chris Ellis a three-run lead until the Rebels gave one run back to seemingly wake up the Ragin’ Cajuns bats.
UL-Lafayette (58-8) picked up its first run in the bottom of the second when Ole Miss’ Auston Bousfield dropped an easy two-out fly ball to shallow center field that allowed Tyler Girouard to score from second base.
That’s when Robichaux started to settle down, finally putting the aggressive Rebels down in order in the third.
When asked how much confidence he had in his teammates to rally behind him, Robichaux said he had no doubt.
“There’s no team I’d rather pitch for,” he said. “I didn’t have my best stuff, but the great thing about this team is I can not have my best stuff and we can still win.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns erupted after being held hitless through the first two innings by Ellis (10-2). UL-Lafayette scored a run on a groundout after Ellis hit a batter and walked two others to load the bases just before Girouard got the first hit of the night with a three-run homer over the right-field wall to give the Cajuns a 5-3 lead.
They scored another run on a balk for a 6-3 cushion.
From there, Robichaux worked himself into a rhythm and kept the Rebels off the bases for the most part.
After Ole Miss scored its third run, Robichaux retired 15 of the next 18 batters he faced. In that stretch, Ole Miss had only a triple, a walk and a hit batter.
Once he got in a groove, Robichaux and the UL-Lafayette offense were too much for Ole Miss to overcome.