Cajuns fall short of Omaha as Ole Miss rallies to super regional title

LAFAYETTE — Ole Miss took a page from Louisiana-Lafayette’s playbook Monday night.

More precisely, the Rebels ripped that page out and threw it back into the faces of the country’s No. 1 team.

The Rebels also ripped away the College World Series berth that the Ragin’ Cajuns so desperately wanted to cap a stellar season, and they ended two generations of frustration.

Instead of the nation’s top-ranked team and the club with the country’s best record making the journey to Omaha, Nebraska, it’s an unlikely Ole Miss team headed to college baseball’s mecca for the first time in more than four decades.

Just like the Cajuns had done so many times on the way to a school-record 58 victories, the Rebels used the long ball early, stretched their advantage with manufactured insurance runs in the middle innings and got strong relief pitching down the stretch.

Ole Miss likely didn’t need any more, but the Rebels sent their fan sections at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field into choruses of “Hotty Toddy” with four tack-on runs in the ninth on the way to a 10-4 win in the winner-take-all final game of the Lafayette super regional.

The Rebels (46-19), coming back from a Saturday Game 1 loss with two straight wins on the Cajuns’ home turf, punched their ticket to the College World Series for the first time since 1972. Ole Miss will face No. 3 seed Virginia, an 11-2 winner over Maryland on Monday night, at 7 p.m. Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in the opening round.

“To come here, for us to play and win two games here was a huge feat,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “As we noted (Sunday) night, the road to Omaha is bumpy and windy. I didn’t think it would take this long, but when you go, you have to have a special group. And this group is that.”

The Cajuns (58-10) are left to ponder what might have been.

UL-Lafayette, the nation’s top power-hitting team, out-hit the Rebels 10-9 but left runners on base in every inning but the ninth. Instead of a host team that ranked second nationally in home runs, it was Ole Miss that had two homers in a two-minute span that negated an early Cajuns lead.

Twice in the game, Ole Miss scored single runs without the benefit of a hit. In fact, other than the fourth inning when Austin Anderson and Sikes Orvis both homered to provide three runs, the Rebels had only two other hits the rest of the game until the ninth-inning surge. But they made them count, thanks to yeoman relief work from Scott Weathersby and Josh Laxer.

That pair limited UL-Lafayette to one unearned run in the final five innings after the Cajuns had rallied back to tie the score at 3 with a pair of fourth-inning runs. Weathersby (3-1) came on after Ryan Leonards’ RBI double scored the tying run and didn’t allow a run in the next two innings.

Laxer gave up one run after his two errors led to Tyler Girouard scoring on Seth Harrison’s two-out double, but he also benefitted from the game’s best defensive play when Rebels shortstop Errol Robinson’s relay throw to catcher Will Allen gunned down Michael Strentz at the plate to maintain a one-run advantage at the time.

“We saw the ball go down the line, and Errol had a good throw that gave me the opportunity to get a tag on,” Allen said. “That was a huge momentum swing for us to preserve the lead. We were really pumped up about that, and Josh did the job from then on.”

Laxer retired six of the last seven batters he faced over the final two innings to get his sixth save.

“Being there in a close game is something I’ve prepared for all year,” Laxer said. “To get that last out, that’s the best feeling in the world.”

“Ole Miss pitched very well,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said. “They kept us from having big innings, and we never really could stop the bleeding.”

Ole Miss got an insurance run in the eighth on Braxton Lee’s sacrifice fly that scored J.B. Woodman, who had walked to lead off the inning. That was a familiar refrain for a UL-Lafayette pitching staff that issued 10 free passes — seven walks and three hit batsmen from eight total pitchers.

“We just didn’t pitch well; that’s the bottom line,” Robichaux said. “You have to be able to make pitches and get the timely pitch. We let one or two innings get away from us.”

For the first time in the super regional, the Cajuns got on the board first against Ole Miss starter Sam Smith when Leonards led off the third with a bloop double and eventually scored on Girouard’s sacrifice fly. Moments later, though, the Rebels surged against UL-Lafayette starter Cody Boutte after the senior left-hander had retired seven in a row.

Austin Bousfield led off the fourth with a double, and Anderson followed with a line shot over the right-field wall on an 0-1 pitch One out later, Orvis cranked a 2-0 pitch to the same spot to make it 3-1.

The Cajuns tied it on Leonards’ double one inning later, but Ole Miss pushed across the eventual winning run on two walks and two hit batsmen in the fifth when Lee scored on a passed ball. Bousfield then doubled Lee home in the sixth after he drew a two-out walk.

The Rebels sent their crowd into celebration in the ninth with the four insurance runs, with pinch hitter Holt Perdzock scoring two with a double, another coming around on an error and Woodman scoring the fourth on a sacrifice fly.

Minutes later, after Laxey retired three in a row in the bottom of the ninth, the dog-pile quickly grew in the Moore Field infield.

Robichaux, whose team came up short of matching the 2000 squad’s CWS trip, said the super regional disappointment shouldn’t overshadow his team’s accomplishments during the season.

“Give credit to Ole Miss for coming in down one (game) and coming back,” he said. “There’s no better feeling to get that last out and go to Omaha. I know how that feels, so I’m glad for Mike. I can’t be any prouder of our team for the way they fought and for what they accomplished ... they know they were good enough to get there, but there are a lot of teams that are home that thought they were good enough.”