Rabalais: Rebels dump also-ran reputation at Ragin' Cajuns' expense

LAFAYETTE — Pack up the fuzzy fake beards. Put away the previously molten hot bats.

Take your diamond dreams and store them back in the jewelry box, Ragin’ Cajuns fans.

There is no joy in Mudbugville, my friends.

Louisiana-Lafayette is out of the NCAA tournament.

The Cajuns had a trip to the College World Series in their grasp after a 9-5 victory over Ole Miss in Game 1 of the Lafayette super regional Saturday.

But the top-ranked team in all the major polls couldn’t come up with the one last victory that it needed to punch the last of eight golden tickets to Omaha, Nebraska.

Instead, it’s the Rebels, the team that everyone said was cursed when it came to the CWS, the team that failed in all of its previous four super regional appearances, that is heading to Omaha for the first time in a couple of generations after an emphatic 10-4 win in the decisive Game 3 on Monday night.

Generations of Cajuns fans may well remember this 2014 season, the one in which UL-Lafayette could seemingly win every game it wanted except, ultimately, the one that mattered most.

It was one heck of a time for the Cajuns’ only losing streak of the season.

Fifty-eight wins and only 10 losses is a super impressive record. But because it lacks one super regional win, it will leave a bitter aftertaste.

Like Sunday’s 5-2 Ole Miss victory that forced the decisive Game 3, it was the little things that conspired to doom the Cajuns.

They left 10 runners on base. And a Mardi Gras parade of eight pitchers wasn’t quite up to the task to keep the Rebels from scoring just enough as they exerted pressure on UL-Lafayette inning after inning.

In the end, the aggressive base running that has been one of the Cajuns’ staples through this remarkable season helped signal their undoing.

Two outs in the seventh, UL-Lafayette trailing Ole Miss 5-3. With runners at first and second, Seth Harrison lasered a double down the left-field line, scoring Tyler Girouard.

Caleb Adams kept on coming from first. Sunday night, that boldness paid off as Harrison scored though the ball arrived well before he did when Rebels catcher Will Allen couldn’t hold on.

This time, Allen’s grip was sure. Who knows if Adams would have been driven home after that. But the plain fact was he was back on the bench, and Ole Miss still had a 5-4 lead and a confidence-infusing defensive gem to carry it forward into the last two innings.

“This game’s a lot about momentum,” Harrison said. “We had momentum going our way, and that play took it and gave it back to Ole Miss. We tried to fight the rest of the game; it just didn’t work out.”

UL-Lafayette still had more chances, and if anyone in the country could have cobbled together an eighth- or ninth-inning rally, it was the Cajuns. But though they came in as arguably the nation’s best hitting team, the Cajuns went quietly, unable to deliver the big hit despite collecting 10 in the game.

Ultimately, UL-Lafayette’s biggest issue was its pitching. The Cajuns could outslug most of their competition throughout the season, but the Rebels’ collection of arms was simply superior.

Eight walks and three hit batters was way too many free base runners for the Cajuns to overcome even if they were hitting at their peak.

“I can’t be any prouder of them, how they fought,” UL-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said of his players. “But you have to give credit where credit’s due. Ole Miss pitched very well and kept us from having the big innings. We never could stop the bleeding.”

The hammer blow came in the top of the ninth. Archie Manning, Eli Manning. Move over, guys. There’s a new Rebel hero in town, and his name is Holt Perdzock.

He delivered a pinch-hit, bases-clearing triple in the top of the ninth to put Ole Miss up 9-4. In the Rebels fan section down the first base line at Moore Field, water bottle showers were flying and soon so were the “Hotty Toddy” cheers.

Those haven’t been heard in Omaha in a very long time.

They will be now.

Ole Miss has won, by damn.

And what seemed like the Cajuns’ destiny has been denied.