Nine relatively quiet innings at the plate might have gnawed at Louisiana-Lafayette.
As it turned out, Jackson State pitching was the perfect remedy.
Subdued in their NCAA tournament regional opener, the Ragin’ Cajuns woke up in a 15-1 elimination-game rout Saturday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium, pounding out 19 hits and recovering from an early one-run deficit to survive into Sunday.
ULL (42-19) faces Sam Houston State, which lost to LSU 8-5, at 2 p.m. Sunday in another elimination game.
“We’ve just got to survive and advance,” ULL coach Tony Robichaux said. “We’ve got enough hitting to get through this.”
On the mound, ace Austin Robichaux (9-2) logged eight innings, allowing one run on nine hits while striking out eight on a humid, 89-degree afternoon.
“I was just trying to give my team the best chance to avoid elimination,” Robichaux said. “It was a hot one, but I just had to grind through it.”
After a listless start, ULL — which had gone eight straight innings without a run, stretching back to Friday’s game against Sam Houston State — erupted for four runs in the top of the fifth to assert control over JSU.
Ryan Leonards, who went 3-for-4 and scored three runs, led off the inning with single up the middle, followed by Dex Kjerstad’s double to left field to put runners in scoring position. Blake Trahan then ripped a grounder up the first-base line that was knocked down by Ethan Bright at first, but allowed Leonards to score and put runners at the corners.
One batter later, Tyler Girouard — who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs — doubled into the left-field gap to score Kjerstad and Trahan in pushing the lead to 3-1.
“That inning, we got the hitters together and wanted to have a little meeting to get us going,” Girouard said. “It kind of helps when one of the players pulls the guys together.”
Jackson State did little to bail itself out when second baseman Stephen Curtis fielded a routine ground ball from Chase Compton, but sailed his throw over first base and allowed Girouard to score for a 4-1 lead.
Three innings later, leading 5-1, the Cajuns effectively put the SWAC champions out of their misery. After loading the bases, Conrad — who went 1-for-4 with four RBI — lashed a triple into the right-field gap to add three more runs, followed by a Girouard sac fly to score Conrad and extend the lead to 9-1.
Only then did Tigers coach Omar Johnson pull starter Desmond Russell (3-1), who allowed nine runs on nine hits over 7.2 innings while striking out five and walking three.
“Throwing a few extra pitches after we made some errors, I started to wear down,” Russell said. “After the eighth-inning hit, I got pretty tired.”
Jackson State had chances in the sixth and seventh innings to pare into the deficit, though.
Charles Tilery got aboard with a leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth, and Robichaux hit Bryce Taylor to put two aboard with one out.
But Ethan Bright slowed the rally with a poor sac bunt. The catcher, Thurman, scooped it up and fired to third base to start an inning-ending double play.
“We should have taken advantage of some situations, and we didn’t,” Johnson said. “We didn’t get a couple bunts down and didn’t do some situational hitting when we had some opportunities to.”
In the seventh inning, Jackson State put runners at first and second with only one out again. Yet Knowles lined a pitch back to Robichaux, who dropped to a knee to catch it. Robichaux then doubled off Fred Hampton at second to close the inning.
“It was huge,” Robichaux said. “Defense always pulls through, especially in tight situations. There (were) a couple innings where they start big rallies and shook me up a little bit, but I was able to get the ball on the ground.”
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