Cajuns rally past Ole Miss, stand one win shy of Omaha

LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team entered the super regional round as the nation’s top sluggers, but Tyler Girouard hadn’t been a big part of that long-ball brigade.

That changed Saturday night.

Girouard lined Ole Miss starter Chris Ellis’ last pitch over the right-field wall for a third-inning three-run homer, giving UL-Lafayette the lead for good and inspiring the top-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns to a 9-5 win over the Rebels in front of a rollicking 4,278 fans at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

It was the junior designated hitter’s third home run. It was also the Cajuns’ first hit of the night. But it was a big one: It gave the hosts a 5-3 lead. It also was the biggest blow in putting the Cajuns (58-8) within one win of a College World Series trip for the first time since 2000.

The second game of the best-of-three super regional is 8 p.m. Sunday. A win by the Rebels (44-19) would force a decisive third game at 6 p.m. Monday.

Girouard’s homer was one of two by a UL-Lafayette team that ranks second nationally in home runs, but the Cajuns manufactured five runs through other methods during their fifth straight postseason win.

In fact, their first two runs scored and they had two runners on base before they recorded their first hit.

That was Girouard’s.

“(Ole Miss) lost control of the strike zone,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said of the third-inning rally. “(Girouard) was able to get a small box, and he was able to attack that box. That got us going from that point on.

“We’re not built on the long ball. We like to spin the game out of control with bunting and running, and then get the big hit, and (Girouard) got it.”

His home run was part of a five-run third inning not only chased Ellis (10-2) but allowed UL-Lafayette starter Austin Robichaux to settle in after a rocky second inning, when the sixth-ranked Rebels used three hits to take an early 3-0 lead.

After that, Robichaux (8-3) allowed only one hit over the next four innings. He gave up single runs in the fourth and seventh innings on Braxton Lee’s two-out triple and Will Allen’s two-out single.

He ended up throwing 116 pitches in his seven innings, scattering seven hits and fanning four, before reliever Matt Plitt came on to work around three late Ole Miss hits in two scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth.

“I don’t thnk I had my best stuff,” Austin Robichaux said. “But with this team, I can pitch without my best stuff, and we can still come back and win the game.”

The Rebels had to lament their missed opportunities and a handful of mistakes.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t play better,” coach Mike Bianco said. “We gave them too many opportunities, and (with) that kind of offense, you can’t give that many opportunities. We made mistakes. ... You can’t do that against most teams, and certainly not against that offense.”

Robichaux gave up four hits to Ole Miss’ first nine hitters, and the Rebels made them count in the second inning. After Sikes Orvis led off with a double and Colby Bortles drew a one-out walk, Preston Overbey and Errol Robinson followed with back-to-back RBI singles. A walk to Braxton Lee loaded the bases, and Auston Bousfield’s fly ball to center scored the third run.

The Cajuns got one back without a hit in the bottom of the second — and it was a gift, as Bousfield dropped Seth Harrison’s two-out fly ball in center field, allowing Girouard to score from second base after he drew a leadoff walk.

Ellis’ control deserted him one inning later as he issued walks to Michael Strentz and Jace Conrad sandwiched around hitting Ryan Leonards with a pitch. Blake Trahan’s ground ball scored Strentz to make it 3-2, and moments later, Girouard blasted the Cajuns’ 67th home run of the season.

“He lost command and lost a little composure,” Bianco said. “It happens, but it hasn’t happened to him much. He just lost rhythm and couldn’t get the ball back into the strike zone.

“The reason we’re where we’re at is our three guys haven’t done that.”

Ellis departed after that pitch, but the Cajuns added two more two-out runs in the inning off reliever Jeremy Massie. Chase Compton and Harrison had back-to-back singles, and Compton scored when first base umpire Steve Mattingly called Massie for a balk that made it 6-3.

Lee’s shot up the left-center gap brought home Robinson as Ole Miss got one back in the fourth, but the hosts put things away with a three-run explosion one inning later. Girouard’s leadoff single, a bunt single by Caleb Adams and Compton’s sacrifice put two runners in scoring position. Massie then uncorked a wild pitch to score Girouard, and Harrison’s one-out ground ball scored Adams for an 8-4 lead.

For good measure, Dylan Butler followed with a line-drive solo homer off the scoreboard in left field.

Massie and reliever Wyatt Short quieted the Cajuns bats over the next three innings, but the damage was done.

The Rebels cut the margin to four with a solo run in the seventh and threatened for more, with Will Allen’s two-out RBI single scoring Bousfield. Orvis, the Southeastern Conference’s second-leading home run hitter, then launched a towering shot to left field, but Adams made a leaping catch at the fence to end the inning.

“I just knew I had to try to make a play,” Adams said. “Just ran other there and jumped and tried to make a play. Anytime someone makes a play in the field, it pumps the guys up. We’ve had a lot of big defensive plays all year that have really helped us.”

Ole Miss also threatened in the ninth off Plitt when Lee led off with a double and Anderson’s one-out single put runners at the corners. But Allen grounded into a game-ending double play to end the final threat.