LAFAYETTE, La. — The wakeup call for the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team’s offense happened early Sunday morning.
ULL coach Tony Robichaux said his team was scheduled to celebrate Mass and have breakfast at 9:30 a.m. It didn’t take long after that for ULL to begin its destruction of pitchers from the state of Mississippi.
Less than an hour after disposing of fourth-seeded Jackson State, ULL (56-8) turned its attention to lighting up the scoreboard against Mississippi State left-hander Ross Mitchell. ULL used an aggressive approach to knock out Mitchell after just three innings en route to a 14-8 victory that forced a winner-take-all championship game at 6 tonight.
“We knew the guy Mississippi State was going to throw was the same type of soft-tossing arm Jackson State threw at us earlier in the day,” ULL outfielder Seth Harrison said. “We had a good idea of what our approach needed to be. We gave them a good idea whose home field this is tonight.”
Seven of ULL’s starters had multiple hits to help the Ragin’ Cajuns score the second-most runs this season against MSU. The 14 runs were the most scored against MSU in a NCAA tournament game since Texas Tech scored 17 in a 2004 NCAA Regional game in Atlanta.
Most the 18 ULL’s hits weren’t cheap. Neither Mitchell (8-5) nor relievers Myles Gentry, Brandon Woodruff, or Vance Tatum was able to avoid contact against one of the nation’s most dangerous offenses. ULL had five extra-base hits and struck out only three times. The Ragin’ Cajuns built a 13-3 lead after four innings and had the announced crowd of 3,729 at M.L. Tigue Moore Field chanting “S-E-C” after every run their team scored.
“We have to get a better performance on the mound (today),” MSU coach John Cohen said. “However, you have to give ULL a lot of credit. They showed why they’re such a good offensive club.”
From No. 2 through No. 8, everyone in ULL’s lineup drove in a run and scored a run to give senior left-hander Cody Boutte all the support he needed. Boutte allowed MSU to tie the game 3-3 before watching his teammates make it 6-3 in the bottom half of the frame. From that moment, Boutte (9-0) retired 11 of the next 12 batters. He didn’t allow another hit until the seventh.
“I think this game is about who can make the biggest push,” Boutte said. “Once the third inning happened, I had to get to the dugout and realize that’s probably going to be their one big push. You don’t know how easy it is to throw behind 14 runs.”
MSU put the leadoff runner on in each of the first three innings against Boutte, a first-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection. But the Bulldogs weren’t able to convert on many opportunities with runners in scoring position.
ULL entered the regional leading the nation in slugging percentage. It scored more than eight runs in a game for the 30th time this season. The uprising came less than two days after ULL lost to Jackson State 1-0.
“We needed to get back to our approach at the plate because it wasn’t good enough on opening night of this tournament,” Robichaux said. “Sometimes when you play a doubleheader, you get in a groove, and it’s possible the advantage goes to the team that has been playing all day.”
Junior Jace Conrad’s two-run home run over the right-field wall, his eighth of the season, put MSU (39-23) back on its heels in the first. Conrad went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and two run scored. He had nine RBIs on the day after driving in six against Jackson State earlier in the day.
“I don’t know what it was about today that was different,” Conrad said. “I knew I hadn’t had a good game in the last two days after leaving runners on base and not giving my team a good chance at victory.”
Through three games at the regional, MSU hasn’t used All-SEC first-team reliever Jacob Lindgren. Cohen said after the game junior Lucas Laster (0-0, 1.97) will start tonight for MSU.
“All year we’ve been battle tested and had tough losses, but we’ve done the same thing to regroup at night to get ready to compete the next day,” MSU senior outfielder C.T. Bradford said.
Bradford was 3-for-5 with two runs scored and a RBI after going hitless in the first two regional games. Seth Heck was 2-for-4 with two runs scored, Brett Pirtle was 4-for-5 with two runs scored and three RBIs, and Wes Rea was 2-for-5 with two runs scored. Heck, Bradford, and Pirtle were 9-for-14 with six runs and four RBIs at the top of the lineup.
Robichaux said he was leaning toward starting left-hander reliever Ryan Wilson (5-0, 1.69). Baseball America rates the senior the 35th best pitcher in his draft class. Wilson has gone longer than four innings in a game five times this season, but he has allowed five earned runs in the past two months.
n ULL 11, Jackson State 1: Jace Conrad hit a grand slam and drove in six runs to help the Ragin’ Cajuns beat the Tigers in an elimination game.
The Ragin’ Cajuns led 8-1 going into the bottom of the fifth inning, then cruised after a three-hour, 12-minute rain delay. ULL starter Chris Charpentier allowed four hits in four innings, then yielded to reliever Matt Hicks (8-1), who threw five shutout innings after the break.
Christopher Wingard (2-2) took the loss for Jackson State (32-25), which upset ULL 1-0 on Friday night.
With the game tied at 1 in the second, ULL loaded the bases and Conrad hit his third grand slam of the season.
Reports by The Associated Press were included in this report.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.