LAFAYETTE — This close.
That’s where Louisiana-Lafayette is after Saturday night’s Game 1 of its super regional against Ole Miss.
It’s 941 miles from M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field, home of the Ragin’ Cajuns, to TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, home of the College World Series.
Saturday’s 9-5 victory put the Cajuns halfway there, figuratively somewhere just north of Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Put another way, the Cajuns have the proverbial runner in scoring position at second base with so much dangerous real estate left to cover.
For much of this remarkable season, it’s seemed the Cajuns have had a date with manifest destiny: a trip across country to stake a claim in the Midwest on a nice, green piece of river bottom land hard by the Missouri River.
But nothing’s a given yet.
True, the Cajuns have pushed Ole Miss to the brink, to a point where the Rebels have one cleat in the grave.
But you only have to think back a week to when UL-Lafayette was in the very same position after that stunning 1-0 loss to Jackson State to open the NCAA Lafayette regional.
That story ended up having a very happy ending for the Cajuns.
This one still could as well for the Rebels.
But it will have to be a comeback tale for the ages if Ole Miss is to recover from the hammer blows it took here on a Louisiana Saturday night.
The mood was festive in and around a packed Moore Field before the game, perhaps even a bit prematurely celebratory.
That mood quickly turned to worry as the Rebels rocked the home folks for a 3-0 lead in the top of the second inning. With stud pitcher Chris Ellis on the mound, the game suddenly had that déjà vu feel of another game with another Mississippi team a week earlier.
It looked like the Rebels would cruise into the third inning still up 3-0 when fortune smiled on the Cajuns. Well, it didn’t just smile. It rared back and had a big old belly laugh on the home team’s behalf.
With two outs and Tyler Girouard at second, the Cajuns’ Seth Harrison sent a big, lazy lollipop of a fly ball toward his opposite number, Auston Bousfield.
Bousfield dropped the ball like it was a falling anvil, allowing Girouard to motor home and give the Cajuns a much-needed and highly unlikely spark.
The blunder seemed to unnerve Ellis when he came back out for the third inning, as he started throwing the ball everywhere but in the strike zone.
It took awhile for the Cajuns to get their first hit, but it was a whopper, a massive three-run home run to right by Girouard that put UL-Lafayette in front to stay 5-3. The Cajuns led 6-3 by the time the inning was over and the Rebels could never catch up.
There was a long way to go after that, but it was suddenly Mardi Gras again in Lafayette. Cajuns fans, danced, chanted, sang in unison, reveled in each hit and run and out by their team and complained bitterly at every ball or strike that went against their boys. There was so much joy and juice and venom bubbling over in this gumbo of emotions (first, you make a roux) that it probably didn’t even seem too odd to most of the UL-Lafayette faithful that most of them were wearing the same red shirts the Rebels were (Cajuns players wore black).
OK, UL-Lafayette wears vermilion. But close enough, Mr. Blackwell.
With a thunderous double play to end the proceedings, a night’s pent-up emotion was released — only to get recharged for Sunday night’s 8 p.m. Game 2.
Now the Cajuns’ bats just need to work their magic one more time; the pitching has to only be so decent; and UL-Lafayette can complete its Mission Omaha that was emblazoned on some of those red (sorry, vermilion) T-shirts on display here Saturday night.
Could the Cajuns still come up short? Absolutely. Ole Miss is a battle-tested, talented team. But you have to like the Cajuns’ blend of bunting and brute force to collect their offense and inflict their damage.
One more factoid: UL-Lafayette hasn’t lost back-to-back games all season long. That’s what would have to happen to keep the Cajuns out of the CWS.
Like we said … this close.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.