It’s been a season of heartbreaking losses for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns.
Wednesday’s 6-5 loss in 13 innings to No. 2-seeded Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt Conference tournament in Conway, South Carolina, may have been the most frustrating one of all.
When beginning a double-elimination format tournament, losing the first game is never good.
A lot has changed for both the UL Ragin’ Cajuns and the Appalachian State Mountaineers since the two teams met in late March.
Even worse is losing that game in 13 innings, placing more of a burden on the pitching staff.
Even worse than that, is struggling to pitch all season long, getting the longest start of the season from a relief pitcher and then having the game go 13 innings to basically neutralize that 7⅔ inning stint.
And perhaps making things more frustrating for the Cajuns (28-30) is they enjoyed two leads in extra innings, only to watch them fade away.
“We just couldn’t finish, that’s been our M.O. all year,” coach Tony Robichaux said.
The loss drops the Cajuns into the loser's bracket, where they will face Troy at 8 a.m. Thursday in an elimination game.
Something needed to change.
Troy also fell 6-5 Wednesday when Little Rock scored a run in the bottom of the eighth for the win.
It appeared the Cajuns were in position for the win when Handsome Monica homered with one out in the top of the 13th inning. But Caleb Armstrong yielded a leadoff double to Steven Curry in the bottom of the 13th. That brought Jacob Schultz to the hill and he was greeted with a single to left by Mason McWhorter.
A wild pitch then tied the game, before Nolan Tressler’s sacrifice bunt attempt was thrown wildly to third to end it.
“The home run was a tough momentum,” McWhorter said, “but I knew our guys weren’t going to give up like that. Steve leading us off he’s been doing that all year and I was just trying to keep it going. You have to have a positive attitude, keep a steady mindset.”
It was certainly a curious move.
The No. 8-seeded Cajuns, who beat Appalachian State 6-2 Tuesday to advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament, had also taken a lead in the 11th inning. Even that inning was riddled with frustration.
Orynn Veillon reached on an error and Monica sacrificed him to second. Daniel Lahare then singled to left. Veillon was going to hold up at third but the throw to the plate was wild. In his attempt to score over the overthrow, Veillon was ruled out and the plate, and he also suffered a hand injury to leave the game on the play.
Still, Brennan Breaux’s infield single chased home Lahare with the go-ahead run.
But UL’s bullpen squandered that lead in the bottom of the 11th when Tressler doubled, advanced on a wild pitch and then scored on Noah Searcy’s sacrifice fly.
The bullpen also put the Cajuns behind the 8-ball in the eighth inning. UL starter Grant Cox had given Robichaux 7.2 innings — the longest start of the season for the Cajuns.
“He was inducing swings,” Robichaux said. “That’s the key to good pitching, their guy did the same thing, stingy and didn’t walk people. When you’re swinging, the pitcher has the advantage if he’s getting ahead in the stroke zone. Cox did a great job, he got one breaking ball up and their guy hit it out of the park (Mason Miller in third). That’s the only mistake he made and got to 96 pitches.
"The leadoff hitter (in the eighth, Curry) was hitting against him for fourth time and hitting 100 points better off lefties. That play needs to be made when we bring Mike in, a big difference if we make that play.”
But reliever Michael Leaumont saw that lead go away when Curry’s swinging bunt single led to a wild throw to chase home Mason Miller for a 3-2 Eagles’ lead.
“That’s been our limp all year from the seventh on, it is what it is,” Robichaux said. “Our hitters have done a good job of hanging in there. As we came down the stretch, we hit it well but our bullpen’s been shaky."
That forced UL to have to tie the game in the ninth, getting a lead-off double from Lahare in front of back-to-back bunts from Breaux and Cole McKinnon to tie the game at 3-3.
Trailing 2-0 going into the fifth, the Cajuns tied the game after an O’Neal Lochridge single to right and a Hayden Cantrelle RBI single.
“Just really proud of our kids, they hung in there and persevered,” Eagles coach Rodney Hennon said. “A heck of ball game, both teams competing and battling , no one wanted to give in and we hung in there and found a way to get it done. Shuman gave us a good start, that seems like hours ago, and got good efforts from Jones, Harris and a big out from Collins with two outs, that kind of got lost. Got to the top of the order in 13th, and those guys have been leading us all year. Really proud of a couple of guys off the bench, Tressler was able to get the bunt down.
“We were very fortunate to win the game, but gotta get ready for a good Little Rock team. If you lose the first one, it makes it really difficult if you’re in that bracket, so very fortunate to stay in the winners’ bracket.”