LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette’s baseball team continued its difficult journey from the first-round losers’ bracket to an NCAA regional tournament championship berth at sold-out M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field on Sunday night.
The No. 1-ranked Cajuns avoided elimination and extended their season for at least another game, as they powered past second-seeded Mississippi State for 18 hits and a 14-8 victory.
UL-Lafayette’s win gave MSU its first defeat in the tournament and forced a decisive final game against the Bulldogs at 6 p.m. Monday to decide which team advances to the super regional round.
The win for UL-Lafayette (56-8) was its second on a day that began with the Cajuns one loss away from seeing their season end.
UL-Lafayette started with an 11-1 win in an elimination game that ended the season for Jackson State (32-26).
An hour later, the Cajuns had to face MSU (39-23), which won its first two games of the regional tournament.
“Talk about a long day,” UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said. “At 9:30 this morning, we had chapel and breakfast. Now it’s almost midnight. If that’s not the definition of grinders, I don’t know what is. These guys grinded like we expected and knew they would.”
Seven Cajuns had multiple-hit games, including Jace Conrad, who had three hits and three RBIs after having three hits and six RBIs in the first game.
“Obviously you have to give a lot of credit to UL-Lafayette,” Bulldogs coach John Cohen said. “They did a great job. They swung the bats well.”
Blake Trahan and Dylan Butler also had three-hit games. Ryan Leonards, Tyler Girouard, Chase Compton and Seth Harrison each had two hits.
Senior left-hander Cody Boutte (9-0) started and allowed three runs in 6.1 innings.
“It’s extremely easy to throw behind 14 runs,” Boutte said.
Cohen said he would start junior left-hander Lucas Laster (0-0, 1.97) on Monday. Robichaux said he was leaning toward starting senior left-hander Ryan Wilson (5-0, 1.69).
“We’ve been battled tested all year long,” Bulldogs outfielder C.T. Bradford said. “We’ve regrouped each time and got ready to compete the next day. That’s all you can do.”
The Cajuns seized a quick 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning off Bulldogs starter Ross Mitchell (8-5).
After Leonards led off with a bunt single that slid along the first-base line, Conrad hit his second home run of the day.
UL-Lafayette expanded the lead with another run in the second when center fielder Harrison sliced a triple that rolled to the base of the fence in right. Butler, batting next, laced a single that scored Harrison to provide the Cajuns with their three-run lead.
Mississippi State evened the game at three in the third inning, as the Bulldogs recorded five hits off Boutte.
Bulldogs’ shortstop Seth Heck, center fielder C.T. Bradford and second baseman Brett Pirtle singled consecutively to start the inning.
Heck, who was running from second to third just before Pirtle’s hit, scored easily before Bradford scored on a Gavin Collins fly ball to left.
First baseman Wes Rea ripped a single to left field, scoring Pirtle to tie the game.
The Cajuns displayed more offense in their half of the third to capture the lead permanently.
Trahan singled to center with one out. He scored along with Girouard off Caleb Adams’ base hit.
A Harrison fly ball to right field scored Adams with the Cajuns’ fifth run.
The Cajuns’ scoring spree continued in the fourth as they pushed across six runs off seven hits against MSU relievers Myles Gentry and Brandon Woodruff.
Girouard had the key hit, a double that scored Trahan, as the Cajuns stretched their lead to 12-3.
Boutte left in the seventh, and the Bulldogs cut the Cajuns’ nine-run lead in the seventh with a pair of runs and three hits off reliever Martin Anderson.
The Cajuns replaced Anderson with Ben Carter in the eighth. The Bulldogs recorded the game’s final run in the ninth off Carter when Rea hit a solo homer.
“The neat thing for us is the last five innings I thought we played really well,” Cohen said. “We have to carry that over into (Monday).”
Advocate sportswriter Les East contributed to this report.