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Baseball: View From The Bench With Scott Brazda – No trip to College World Series this time

By Scott Brazda and Steve Landry, Acadiana Gazette, June 11, 2014  

  

LAFAYETTE – Great defense by the Ole Miss Rebels and lack of

clutch hitting by the #1 UL Lafayette Cajuns – and iffy pitching from

them in this hosted Super Regional – resulted in a 10-4 loss at Tigue

Moore Field in the third game of a three-game series.

That means the Cajuns are not going to the World Series.

This past Monday, the season ended for what was probably the

best team in college baseball. But, as they say, that’s why you play

the game.

They won the first game. They lost the second game on Sunday.

Then Monday came and the sold-out crowd went home disappointed

but it should be noted that as the ninth inning ended some UL fans

were clapping for the opponents that are now headed to the Omaha

for the College World Series.

But they were mostly clapping a “thank you” to the Cajuns.

The Cajuns had not been to the World Series since 2000. For Ole

Miss, it’s been 42 years.

Now, the Rebels will play next weekend with two four-team brackets

in a double elimination tourney. The winners of each bracket play

a best-of-three for the title.

The Cajuns, meanwhile, are done for 2014, taking a slew of seniors

with them.

As 96.5’s sports guru Jay Walker said: “It ends suddenly.” It’s been

101 wins over two years for UL’s baseball program. Walker (see PG.

5-A for his comments on another subject) said, post-game, that a 58-

10 team is something to be proud of.

About 4,300 in mostly red attire attended and few left early, but

the die-hards stayed mostly to thank the team for the great year.

“The fans were great tonight, even in the ninth inning,” Walker

said on his radio show. “I’m proud to be a part of the Cajun Nation

right now.”

He said: “This is a ball team we’ll never forget.”

Walker, in his final thoughts on the radio, said: “Has there ever

been a better time to be a Cajun fan?”

Let’s tick off that assessment, one by one:

• In the fall the Cajuns won their third New Orleans Bowl.

• Soccer had its best season in history.

• The UL volleyball team had the most wins in almost 20 years.

• In the winter, UL women’s basketball had the best year since

2007.

• The UL men’s basketball team won the Sun Belt Conference and

qualified for the NCAA Tournament for March Madness.

• The UL men’s tennis team

won a championship in the

Spring and going to the

NCAA.

• The women’s softball team

making it to the CWS in

Oklahoma City.

“I don’t know if you’re ever

going to see very many baseball

teams in America that are going

to be able to say they averaged

over 50 wins over a two-year period,

but the Cajuns will be able

to say it,” Walker said.

And So It Ends … by Scott

Brazda

And so it ends… ends in a way

not the least bit reflective of just

how amazing a season this was.

But the big-time college baseball

atmosphere was right here

in Acadiana, and the drama was

there… until the final inning.

NCAA Super Regional, Game

Three.

The Ragin’ Cajuns and Ole

Miss Rebels all tied up at

one game apiece.

College World

Series on the line.

For the third

straight night, UL’s

Tigue Moore Field

and the adjacent Cajun

Field parking lot

took on a tailgating,

football-ish atmosphere:

Fans barbecuing, kids tossing

balls around, tents, chairs

and TVs at the ready. And for

the folks not able to get into The

Tigue, the UL Athletic department

and some communityminded

sponsors had brought in

some big, big screens… so those

not in the game ….were almost

inside, yet still part of the game.

Inside the ballpark, the teams

spent the first couple innings

feeling each other out, and put

up zeroes; that is, until the bottom

of the third, when Notre

Dame High product Ryan Leonards

notched the first of his three

hits, and laced a double to center

field. Tyler Girouard’s sacrifice

fly brought Leonards home, and

the Cajuns took the first step to

Omaha, via a 1-0 lead.

But then Mother Nature had

her say. The big showers that

pelted Evangeline Parish in the

late afternoon visited Lafayette

Parish around 7 p.m., and seemed

to give the Rebels a bit of a boost

in the top of the fourth. Double.

Homer. Homer. Whether it was

the rain, or the Ole Miss hitters,

no matter: Cajuns hurler Cody

Boutte dug himself a hole and

the Cajuns trailed 3-1.

However, the precipitation apparently

had the same effect on

the Cajun hitters. Compton was

hit by a pitch. Butler doubled.

Strentz slapped an rbi grounder

to third, and Leonards zinged another

double. Cajuns and Rebels

were dead even, 3-3 after four.

That’s when it became a battle

of the bullpens.

Once Boutte walked the first

batter of the fifth, Tony Robichaux

went to his bullpen.

Again. And again. And again.

First Hicks, then Griffith, then

Plitt. Robichaux was all in, fully

grasping the ‘there’s no tomorrow’

message of the game. Four

pitchers in the fifth, but a Rebel

run in to put Ole Miss up 4-3.

The weird thing was that the

way the Rebs got that fourth run

(and take a lead they would never

relinquish) was… just plain

weird. And very un-Cajunslike.

Rebel hit by pitch. Then a

wild pitch. Then a walk. Then a

passed ball. Then another walk.

It was like the baseball gods

were saying to the UL faithful,

“O.K., we gave you 67 games

where this kind of stuff didn’t

happen; unfortunately, now your

number’s come up.”

Ole Miss touched Plitt with a

two-out walk and double to go

up 5-3 in the sixth, but with the

fans turning up the volume on

the “Ragin’!! Cajuns!! Ragin’!!

Cajuns!!” cheer, and seemingly

willing the team to regain its

mojo, the Cajuns proved they

weren’t quite ready to go quietly

into the night.

A Rebel error, allowing Girouard

to get on, was followed

by an Adams walk, which set

the stage for potential heroics

by Seth Harrison. Harrison

smacked a double down the left

field line, which in turn gave the

Cajuns hope…yet dashed them at

the very same time.

Harrison’s double into the

corner sent Girouard scurrying

home to make it 5-4, and, with

the ball ricocheting a bit, the call

was made to send Adams home

as well. But a perfect throw,

and a perfect block of the plate

by Ole Miss catcher Will Allen

kept Adams from touching home

with his hand, and subsequently,

kept the Cajuns from knotting

things up.

Still, it was a one-run game

again… a one-run deficit with

two at-bats to go in front of the

home crowd…and a one-run

deficit for a team that hadn’t lost

back-to-back games all season.

Sure, Ole Miss was really good,

with a really good pitching

staff, but the Cajuns and their

karma seemed to be in place,

seemed to be ready to zoom UL

to its second World Series appearance.

Funny thing about karma,

though; seems we often forget

that the other team may have

some of that magical stuff as

well.

A sac fly, or sac liner off Harrison,

built the Rebs’ lead back

up to two, 6-4 in the top of the

eighth, and that one… that extra

run… seemed to sap the spirit of

the crowd. A few started leaving,

only to come scurrying back

in when Leonards delivered his

third hit, and brought Jace

Conrad to the plate with

the tying run. It was

the final gasp, and

Conrad had delivered

so many times

before….

But not this time.

Conrad lifted a

lazy fly to center for

the inning’s third out,

and the Cajuns moved

into the ninth down by

two, and with no room for

any mistakes.

The final Ole Miss at-bat of

the night was a mess…for the

Cajuns. A batter hit, then a single,

then the bases loaded with

no outs. Fans were hunched

over, praying and hoping and

wishing for the miracle… that

didn’t come. The Rebels cleared

the bases via a liner into the

right field corner, and when the

dust settled, Ole Miss had put

the game away with a 10-4 lead.

And that did it. UL did finally

go quietly into the night—

three up, three down to end the

game—but then, something

truly amazing happened. The

Cajuns faithful (and many had

stayed through the ugly ninth)

stayed in the stands, stood up

and cheered. They cheered and

clapped and whistled….and said,

“Thank you”.

That’s “thank you” to the 2014

Ragin’ Cajuns, a mid-major

team from the Sun Belt Conference

that won 58 games and was

ranked number one— NUMBER

ONE—for a good part of

the season. And it all happened

right here, right here in little ol’

Lafayette.

The College World Series was

not to be, and for many, that’s a

tough pill to swallow.

But coming up one win short

doesn’t make this season any

less extraordinary.

We will speak of this season

for years to come. It was certainly…

one for the ages.