HOUSTON — The Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team saved the drama for the weekend. Monday was a work day.
The Ragin’ Cajuns completed their sweep through the NCAA tournament’s Houston regional with a 5-2 victory against Rice in the championship game and, for the first time in the tournament, they didn’t need a miracle rally to win.
The Cajuns advanced to play LSU in the best-of-three Baton Rouge super regional starting Saturday, with the winner advancing to the College World Series. It’s the second straight season the Cajuns have made the super regional round, and this time the Cajuns are riding an eight-game winning streak.
“We’re not surprised at what’s going on right now, because that’s what we worked for,” senior outfielder Dylan Butler said. “We got so far last year, we wanted to get back there and we knew what we needed to do to get there.”
The Cajuns took the lead on senior designated hitter Tyler Girouard’s RBI single in the fourth inning. Senior left fielder Evan Powell made it 4-0 an inning later with a bases-loaded, two-run single.
Jumping to an early lead was part of the plan for the Cajuns; Rice played a 20-inning marathon against regional host Houston the night before that stretched past 2 a.m.
“It was our biggest motive today,” Powell said. “We knew they had a long game yesterday. It’s unfortunate for them, but we knew all we needed to do was come out and get on them early, then grind it out from there.”
Powell was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after going 5-for-11 with three RBIs in three games.
The Cajuns found themselves in a position they hadn’t experienced yet in the regional: They had a lead before the ninth inning came around.
Maybe the Cajuns, who entered the game having won three straight games in the final inning, couldn’t avoid at least a little drama after all.
Freshman right-hander Evan Guillory (5-0) threw five strong innings, retiring 12 of the first 14 batters he faced before giving up three hits in a two-run fifth.
His replacement, Will Bacon, entered in the sixth, and coach Tony Robichaux hoped he’d be able to go two innings before turning it over to freshman closer Dylan Moore, but Rice forced his hand by loading the bases with nobody out against Bacon, putting the go-ahead run at first base.
“I thought the game was on the line right there, so I went ahead and went to (Moore),” Robichaux said.
Moore, who set the Cajuns’ single-season saves record Friday in a win over Rice, proceeded to record a strikeout, a groundout and an easy fly ball to escape the jam unscathed.
After the Cajuns tacked on a run in the eighth, Moore found himself in trouble in the next inning when Rice picked up back-to-back hits to put runners at second and third with one out.
Again, Moore found the pitches when he needed to, inducing two groundouts to get out of the inning with no further damage.
“What an outstanding job by a true freshman to be put in that situation and be able to pitch out of that,” Robichaux said.
His third and final inning was a breeze by comparison. Moore worked around a leadoff walk to retire the side and preserve the win for his 13th save of the season. The Cajuns helped him out by finishing their third consecutive game without committing an error.
“It was a grind; we knew that’s the way it would be,” Robichaux said. “One of the advantages we had, of course, is that the game (Sunday) night took so long for them. … You’ve got to give those guys credit for coming out today and pushing us all the way to the end.”