Louisiana-Lafayette pitcher Ryan Wilson pitches in the second inning during an NCAA college baseball tournament regional game against Mississippi State in Lafayette on Monday. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 03, 2014 11:40 AMLAFAYETTE — It was the road less traveled, but Louisiana-Lafayette has still reached the next step towards its ultimate destination.
ULL knocked off Mississippi State 5-3 in Monday night’s regional championship game, assuring the Ragin’ Cajuns of hosting Ole Miss in next week’s best-of-three Super Regional with a spot in the College World Series on the line. It’s ULL’s first regional title since 2000.
The Cajuns (57-8) had to scrape and claw just to make it to Monday night after a stunning 1-0 loss to Jackson State in the opening round.
“We put our backs against the wall a few times this year,” said regional MVP Jace Conrad, who finished the weekend with 9 RBIs. “It’s who we are to dig ourselves out of those holes.”
Scraping and clawing was their modus operandi against the Bulldogs too — three of ULL’s runs were scored without being driven in by a hit.
ULL scored on a pair of Jacob Lindgren wild pitches in the third, then tacked on another as Seth Harrison made the circuit on a hit-by-pitch, passed ball, wild pitch and a Michael Strentz squeeze bunt.
“Our Sunday started with chapel at 9:30 a.m. and ended at midnight. That was the epitome of who we are,” said ULL coach Tony Robichaux. “They understand not to have an ego. They continue to move forward without an ego. Their private lives — the hard work, the effort — is starting to become public now.”
Though ULL’s offense is all the rage in the national statistics — the Cajuns entered the weekend second in the country in hitting and scoring — quality pitching was key against the Bulldogs.
Starter Ryan Wilson (6-0) did the job in his sixth start of the season, allowing three runs on four hits in 6 2/3 innings. Matt Plitt finished the job, earning his fifth save by tossing a scoreless 2 1/3 innings.
Plitt’s innings were not as drama-free as his pitching line indicates.
He allowed three straight singles in relief of Wilson in the seventh, allowing the Bulldogs to cut the deficit to 4-3 before he caught Gavin Collins looking to end the inning.
Mississippi State (39-24) threatened again in the eighth after Plitt issued back-to-back two-out walks before Matthew Britton laced one down the right-field line. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Britton’s near-base clearing double was foul by a foot, and Plitt fought back to strike him out as well.
“Our position players are the best at coming to the mound and calming you down,” Plitt said.
ULL, playing as the away team, added a crucial insurance run in the top of the ninth when Kinder’s Blake Trahan drove home Jace Conrad with a two-out single.
No one seemed to benefit from that breathing space more than Plitt, who retired the top of the Bulldogs lineup in order to finish the game.
“Matt Plitt’s been one of the hottest guys out of our bullpen the last 30 days. I just think he’s done a great job of staying connected and finishing his pitches at the end,” Robichaux said. “He’s learning how to attack with his fastball now. When you attack with your fastball, everything fits in.”