HOUSTON — On a day when the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team’s offense struggled to get anything going until the ninth inning, the spark came from the unlikeliest of places.
The bottom of the order delivered the Ragin’ Cajuns’ thrilling comeback win against Rice — the portion of the lineup that most considered the weakest part of the Cajuns’ roster heading into the tournament.
Evan Powell, Greg Davis, Nick Thurman and Dylan Butler — the Cajuns’ Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 hitters — combined to go 5-for-12 with four RBIs, all of which came in the Cajuns’ five-run, ninth-inning rally.
“They were huge,” coach Tony Robichaux said.
The production at the bottom of the order was huge and also a necessity; the top five hitters in the order combined to go 2-for-17.
Here’s another statistic about the bottom of the lineup: It’s populated by three seniors and a junior. That may seem like an interesting anomaly, but Robichaux insisted it was part of a plan.
“We talked about that when we were struggling a little bit,” Robichaux said. “We said, ‘Butler’s a senior, Powell’s a senior, Davis is a senior; let’s spread this thing out a little bit and get some of these seniors down at the bottom of the order for us, because they have no backup plan — this is it for them.’ We knew they’d fight and grind it out.”
That was never more evident than in the ninth inning.
Powell started the scoring by ripping the first pitch thrown by reliever Austin Orewiler into left field for an RBI single with the bases loaded.
He was followed by Davis, who has struggled immensely in the latter half of the season, especially with runners in scoring position. Those struggles didn’t diminish his teammates’ confidence in him when he strode to the plate with the bases loaded.
“When Greg got up, I was waiting for one to get out of here,” said Tyler Girouard, referring to what would’ve been a go-ahead grand slam. “I was ready for it.”
But Davis said he wasn’t aiming to end it with one swing. That was something that has plagued him at times this year.
“One of our pillars as an offense is to be the big hit,” Davis said. “Early in the year, sometimes people get too big in that situation. I was one of those guys.”
So Davis thought small. He saw the pitch he wanted and hit it softly to where the Rice defense couldn’t field it. Two runs scored.
Next up was Thurman, who laid down a pretty sacrifice bunt in a perfect spot between charging defenders. He forced a rushed play, and he reached safely when the throw sailed high to first base.
With the bases loaded, Butler — one of the more strikeout-prone hitters on the squad — showed some restraint and drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the score. A Blake Trahan sacrifice fly later, and the Cajuns had the lead and a regional-opening victory.
To get there, the bottom of the lineup did its job, turning the lineup over — and, even better, doing it with the bases loaded.
It’s normally a thankless job, but Friday, the last of the order showed it can steal the show, too.