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Baseball: Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns use best arms, grand slam to get to Sun Belt Tournament semifinals

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 26, 2021

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With a ticket to Saturday’s semifinal round of the Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament going to the winner of UL’s pool play game against Appalachian State, the Ragin’ Cajuns and Mountaineers both brought out their aces.

UL went one step farther, using its top pitchers, Connor CookeBrandon Talley. and Spencer Arrighetti. The strategy worked as the Cajuns rode their arms and All-Sun Belt designated hitter Ben Fitzgerald’s to beat App State 7-2 on Thursday night in Montgomery, Alabama.

With UL (32-22) leading 3-2, Fitzgerald broke the game open with a grand slam to right in the bottom of the eighth.

“Their starter threw a great game, and Cooke threw a great game too,” said Fitzgerald, who has a team-high 12 home runs. “Both guys out of the bullpen (Talley and Arrighetti) were doing everything they had to.

“A low-scoring game like that is always tough as a hitter, just because you can get mad at yourself for getting out. But then you always have to tip your cap, because (App starter Tyler Tuthill) was pitching a helluva game.

“So to final get one at the end,” Fitgerald added, “was pretty exciting.”  

UL, No. 1 seed in the West, will face Georgia Southern, the East’s No. 2 seed , in Saturday’s second semifinal (4 p.m., ESPN�).

South Alabama, No. 1 seed in the East, will face Texas-Arlington, the West’s No. 2 seed, in Saturday’s first semifinal (noon). The championship game is Sunday (1 p.m., ESPN�). 

UL's pitching plan worked

UL led 3-2 when Talley relieved Cooke left with two outs in the fifth.

Arrighetti UL’s usual No. 1 starter most of the regular season, but struggled during the second half of Sun Belt play. Coach Matt Deggs considered Cooke his best pitcher going into the tournament. So with everything on the line he called first on the righty from Sulpher High to counter Tuthill, and hoped to save Arrighetti.

Instead, Arrighetti entered with two out and none on in the seventh inning. Making just his second relief appearance this season, the former TCU pitcher closed by retiring the side in order in the ninth.

“We proved it all year: We can pitch,” Deggs said.

“The bullpen’s become a real weapon, and then when you add a guy with the intensity of Arrighetti in the back of that bullpen that’s going too tough to handle for anybody.”

Cooke threw 62 pitches, 38 for strikes. Talley threw only 23 pitches and struck out four of the six batters he faced. Arrighetti threw 40, leaving all three available for the weekend.

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What happened

Cooke threw four scoreless innings before finding trouble.

The Mountaineers (21-31) broke through in the fifth, when Luke Drummheller’s two-run single cut the Cajun lead to one run and chased Cooke.

Both sides went down in order in the sixth and seventh innings, and Arrighetti used a strikeout to escape a jam with men on first and second in the eighth after an error and an intentional walk.

Fitzgerald's two-out grand slam, which chased Tuthill, scored Brennan Breaux, CJ Willis and Drake Osborn.

Osborn, the Sun Belt’s 2021 Newcomer of the Year, got UL going with a leadoff a home run to left-center in the bottom of the first. UL added two more runs in the third, when Tyler Robertson doubled in Willis and Osborn scored on Breaux’s sacrifice fly.

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How they got here

UL opened pool play with a 12-6 win over Texas State in an inconsequential game Wednesday.

Appalachian State beat Texas State 1-0 in its opener Tuesday.