LAFAYETTE — Forget about crashing the party. Jackson State did a lot more than that Friday night.
The Tigers rocked the college baseball world.
A program that had never won a game in NCAA tournament competition — and that had given up double-digit runs in all but one game in its postseason history — left a Louisiana-Lafayette team and 3,581 fans in Moore Field stunned in the opening round of the Lafayette regional.
The Tigers, ranked 271st in the final regular-season RPI listings, shut out the top slugging team in the country on the way to taking a 1-0 shocker over the host Ragin’ Cajuns, putting the No. 1 team in the country within one loss of elimination.
“People paid their money, and they saw an outstanding baseball game,” Jackson State coach Omar Johnson said.
Tigers pitchers Vincent Anthonia and Alexander Juday combined to shut out the Cajuns (53-8) for the first time this year. Only twice this year had UL-Lafayette been held to less than two runs, and those came in the first two games of the season.
The Tigers, hadn’t won a 1-0 game since 1981, but they picked the best possible time to snap that streak.
“That’s baseball,” said Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux, whose team was the No. 6 national seed in the NCAA Tournament and had a nation-longest 10-game win streak entering Friday. “When you’ve been in this for 29 years, this isn’t the first time this has happened.”
It hasn’t happened very much, especially to this Cajuns team, but Anthonia and Juday combined to strand 11 runners including two at third base. The normally potent UL-Lafayette offense, which led the nation in slugging percentage entering the tournament (.500), didn’t manage an extra-base hit against the lowest-ranked RPI squad in the 64-team NCAA field.
“I just trusted my changeup,” said Anthonia (4-0). “That’s all I threw the whole game. We knew that team could switch things at any minute; they’re a really good hitting team.”
“It’s not rocket science,” Johnson said. “They’re an overly aggressive team, and we threw the changeup. We got a lot of fly balls and a lot of balls off the end of the bat. We made some good decisions throughout the game.”
The best decision came in the fourth inning, when Melvin Rodriguez came to the plate with two outs. Two hitters earlier, Desmond Russell had blooped a double — the game’s only extra-base hit — behind third base for the first hit off Cajuns starter Austin Robichaux (7-3).
“It’s a situation we worked on the whole year,” Russell said of getting the runner in from second base. “I was looking for a fast ball to drive, and I got it on the second pitch.”
Russell drove that pitch back through the box, bouncing it into center field, and Russell outran center fielder Seth Harrison’s throw to the plate to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Other than those two hits, Robichaux didn’t give up another hit until the eighth inning and only faced one batter over the minimum when he hit Russell with a pitch with two outs in the sixth inning. Thanks to a double play, the junior righthander faced the minimum number in five of the first seven innings.
JSU also threatened in the eighth and ninth on a pair of hits, but Robichaux and ninth-inning reliever Matt Plitt pitched out of jams with two runners on base in each inning.
“Austin did a great job of setting a tempo for us,” Tony Robichaux said. “We played really good defense. We just didn’t get the timely hit, so give those guys some credit for that. I’m proud of the way (Austin) kept going out there and matching them.”
“They were definitely throwing with less velocity than what we saw all season,” said Cajuns shortstop Blake Trahan, who had three of UL-Lafayette’s eight hits. “But baseball’s a game where you have to make adjustments, and we didn’t get the timely hit. We’re a little shocked. ... Baseball’s a funny game. We got hit in the mouth, and we’ve got to stand back up.”
The Cajuns face an elimination game against San Diego State, a 5-2 loser to Mississippi State in Friday’s regional opener, at 1 p.m. Saturday. Junior righthander Carson Baranik (10-1) is slated to start for the Cajuns against Aztecs ace Bubba Derby (8-3).
JSU, which upset four straight teams to win the SWAC tournament two weeks ago as the No. 8 seed, will face the Bulldogs at 6 p.m. in the winners’ bracket game.
“What we’re doing right now is something special,” Rodriguez said. “Our team’s getting together. We came to the SWAC tournament like we never did the whole year — and now to be here, it’s awesome.”
The Cajuns got two hits in the first inning, and Jace Conrad reached third before a popup ended that threat and gave the Moore Field fans a preview of what happened the rest of the evening. In all, UL-Lafayette had 12 fly-ball outs.
The biggest threats came in the seventh and eighth innings. In the seventh, Trahan had the third of his three hits before getting caught stealing for the second out. Ryan Leonards followed with a single, and Harrison reached on a bunt that was mishandled by Juday, but Conrad flied out for the third straight time to end the inning.
In the eighth, Caleb Adams led off with a walk and pinch hitter Tyler Girouard had a bunt single before Chase Compton sacrificed both up. But with the tying and go-ahead runners in scoring position, Michael Strentz popped up to shallow center field and pinch hitter Kyle Clement struck out.
With the small but rowdy JSU fan section screaming and the rest of the red-clad stadium in shock, Trahan struck out, Leonards flied out and Harrison grounded out in the ninth to start the Tiger celebration.
“We just made history,” said Anthonia, who scattered five hits.