HOUSTON — Houston apparently didn’t get the memo.
Give the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team an inch, and it’ll take a win.
After being held without a hit for the first 7.2 innings Sunday in the NCAA tournament’s Houston regional, the Ragin’ Cajuns rallied for two runs in the ninth without getting the ball out of the infield to stun host Houston 2-1 — their third consecutive win in the final inning.
“That is the maturity of this team,” coach Tony Robichaux said. “They understand not to get spooked in a close game. You just have to keep playing the game and keep your nose in the grind.”
“Grind” might be the only word to describe how the Cajuns pushed two runs across in the ninth. Joe Robbins scored the winning run when Tyler Girouard was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
“We find a way to make things interesting,” Giroaurd said. “You never want to put yourself in that spot, but … we did a great job of staying in the game. … And when we have our opportunity to go and take the game, we do.”
The Cajuns advanced to Monday’s regional tournament championship, where they will face the winner of Sunday night’s late game between Rice and Houston. The Cajuns need just one win Monday to advance to the super regional round; they will send freshman Evan Guillory to the mound at 1 p.m. to try to clinch that spot. The teams would play again at 6 p.m. if necessary.
The way Sunday’s game was going heading into the ninth, the 1-0 deficit the Cajuns faced felt much bigger.
Houston freshman left-hander Seth Romero carved up the Cajuns most of the game, holding them hitless through the first seven innings.
Evan Powell broke up Romero’s no-hitter with two outs in the eighth when he singled through the left side on a 3-2 pitch. Earlier in the at-bat, Powell tried to bunt his way on and was thrown out by the catcher, but the umpire ruled it a foul ball.
Romero was lifted in the ninth after issuing a leadoff walk to Dylan Butler. The Cougars went to another freshman lefty, Aaron Fletcher, and the Cajuns launched their comeback.
“Once I walked, it just starts a whole new ballgame,” Butler said. “(Robichaux) always says, ‘Just stay in the ballgame until the last out is made,’ and we fought to the end and we came out on top.”
Blake Trahan laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Butler to second base. Joe Robbins followed by reaching on a throwing error by the shortstop with a little help from Butler, who screened the ball while running to third.
With Fletcher on the mound and left-hander Kyle Clement coming to the plate, Robichaux dialed up a squeeze play.
“I thought that if you could just tie the game, you can win it,” Robichaux said.
Butler raced home and barely slid in ahead of the tag before the ball popped out of catcher Ian Rice’s glove, making any argument over a close play moot.
With Girouard, another lefty, looming in the on-deck circle, the Cougars left Fletcher in to face Cajuns home run leader Stefan Trosclair. But instead of providing a big lick, Trosclair legged out an infield single to load the bases for Girouard.
After Girouard took one for the team to clinch the win, he launched his bat about 90 feet in the direction of the Cajuns dugout before beginning his strut to first base, where he was mobbed by his teammates.
But Girouard likely wouldn’t have had a chance to play hero had it not been for the equally heroic efforts by Cajuns pitchers Gunner Leger and Greg Milhorn, who limited the Cougars to one run on seven hits and did not issue a walk.
The only damage Houston was able to inflict came on Chris Iriart’s two-out solo homer over the left-field wall in the first inning. Leger and Milhorn were phenomenal over the final eight innings, especially when it came to dancing out of trouble.
Leger escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second inning, then after retiring 12 consecutive Cougars, he kept them off the board after back-to-back singles gave Houston runners at first and second with one out.
Locked in a duel with a fellow freshman, Leger left the game after allowing five hits in six strong innings.
“I come into every game trying to be stingy,” Leger said. “You never know what the other guy is going to do.”
Milhorn turned in his own escape act between two perfect innings, when he got a ground ball out and a fly ball to strand runners at second and third to end the eighth.