HOUSTON — The Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team scored five runs in the top of the ninth inning Friday to erase a four-run deficit and shock Rice 7-6 while also evading the losers’ bracket at the NCAA tournament’s Houston regional.
“They lost track of the strike zone a little bit, and we were able to get a hit here and a hit here,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said. “They didn’t quit, and we grinded our way through it. We’re fortunate enough to have won that game.”
In Saturday’s 7 p.m. game, the Cajuns will face regional host Houston, a 6-4 winner over Houston Baptist on Friday night. Robichaux said the Cajuns likely would start freshman Evan Guillory. Houston Baptist and Rice will square off in an elimination game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
If there is any team in the country that knows no lead is safe, it might’ve been the Cajuns. Friday’s win marked their third game in the past nine days to end with a rally of four or more runs in the final inning.
“That was real fun,” senior designated hitter Tyler Girouard said. “We have a problem with making it interesting late in games.”
This one was different, though. The Cajuns only picked up two hits in the ninth, but both of those came with the bases loaded.
All-America shortstop Blake Trahan put the Cajuns ahead for good when he hit a sacrifice fly to deep center to score pinch runner Jam Williams.
Until the ninth inning, the Cajuns hadn’t done much offensively against Rice’s talented pitching staff, being shut out through the first five innings before tacking on a lone run in the sixth and seventh innings.
So there wasn’t much excitement when Kyle Clement started the ninth by striking out on a wild pitch, allowing him to reach first safely.
But then Stefan Trosclair and Tyler Girouard followed Clement’s strikeout by walking to load the bases for Powell with no outs. After the walks, Rice coach Wayne Graham decided to pull closer Matt Ditman in favor of right-hander Austin Orewiler (5-2).
The move didn’t pay off. Powell hammered the first pitch he saw into left-center, scoring Clement. The next batter, Greg Davis, ripped a single of his own up the middle of the diamond to score two more.
Davis has found himself in many situations just like the one he faced Friday, and more often than not came up short. Refusing to be bitter about it, he said he figured the game would pay him back.
“The game knows when you’re struggling,” Davis said. “The game will get runners back on for you. If you strike out with the bases loaded and nobody out, the game will go back to see you and test you again. ... It gave me an opportunity.”
Dylan Butler, batting out of the No. 9 spot in the order, tied it with a bases-loaded walk, setting up Trahan’s go-ahead sacrifice fly.
“We have a lot of confidence right now,” Girouard said. “I think a big part of it was knowing our inning’s coming and staying in the game, not letting the game get away from us. We did a good job of that today.”
Dylan Moore pitched a perfect ninth inning to record his 12th save of the season, setting a school record in the process.
The five-run ninth answered a two-run eighth by the Owls and broke the script for what had been a pitchers’ duel.
The Owls took the lead without a hit in the fourth inning. They drew a pair of walks to open the inning against Cajuns starter Wyatt Marks, then used a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly to score the first run.
Ford Stainback, the second batter to be walked by Marks at the start of the inning, raced home to score on a passed ball by Nick Thurman to make it 1-0.
Back-to-back one-out singles and a bizarre sacrifice bunt attempt chased Marks from the game in the next inning as the Owls pushed their lead to 2-0.
After the singles, Rice leadoff hitter Grayson Lewis popped a bunt in the air down the third-base line, but it landed in no man’s land. Both Marks and Thurman ran out to field it, but they nearly collided and left home plate unoccupied, allowing Kirby Taylor to score.
The play was the last of the day for Marks, who was mostly solid in 4.1 innings, striking out three and allowing four hits. Will Bacon (6-2) fired 3.2 innings in relief of Marks to get the win.
Rice starting pitcher Blake Fox shut down the Cajuns for 6.1 innings, allowing just four hits and two runs.
“We knew Rice was going to run really good arms at us,” Robichaux said.