College : : Story
Sunday, June 08, 2014

Louisiana Saturday night

Kendall Rogers        

LAFAYETTE, La. -- One of the important things in life is admitting when you make mistakes.

As it relates to my job and covering college baseball for over 10 seasons, I came to realization Saturday night that I've made a massive mistake for the past decade or so -- I've never made a point to check out Louisiana-Lafayette and M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field in the heart of Cajun Country, or better known as Acadiana around these parts.

I can't count on two hands how many times I've driven Interstate 10 from Houston to Baton Rouge, La., to watch LSU, thus passing right by Exit 103A, which precisely suggests Lafayette, University of Louisiana-Lafayette, right this way.

Boy, what a mistake that was.

After watching the Ragin' Cajuns beat Ole Miss 9-5 in Game 1 of the Lafayette Super Regional to get one win away from the College World Series, which would be the program's first berth since 2000, I approached Louisiana-Lafayette offensive mad scientist Matt Deggs, whose resume is quite impressive with previous stops at Texas A&M and Arkansas before landing in southern Louisiana.

The conversation went a little like this: "We really appreciate you coming over here to watch us play this weekend," Deggs said. "We really feel like we have a hidden gem with this crowd and atmosphere."

Deggs is exactly right.

Though college baseball fans will zero in on LSU as a destination for a fun weekend to catch a series, and rightfully so, for obvious reasons, the Cajuns have something unique and very special just 65 miles of Alex Box Stadium.

The scene on Saturday night was special. Thousands of fans splashed in a healthy dose of red and black lined the streets outside the stadium. And though Ole Miss jumped out to a 3-0 lead after 1 1/2 innings, the environment and attitude inside the stadium never changed. On two-strike counts, the stadium was on its feet. After all, with this ULL offense, these Cajuns had to know it was only a matter of time before they awoke.

Then, the lid came off what the locals call "The Tigue" in the third inning.

Ole Miss junior righthanded pitcher Chris Ellis has been one of the nation's premier arms this season, and was extremely consistent in the Southeastern Conference, making just one truly bad start very early in the conference season against Alabama. But against the Cajuns, and this uniquely crazy atmosphere, Ellis succumbed. His fastball and changeup command usually is immaculate. Not on this night, though. Ellis walked three batters and surrendered the lead in the third inning when Tyler Girouard hit a three-run home run over the right field wall to give the Cajuns a 6-3 advantage after three innings -- a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

The rest of the night was a challenge for the Rebels. The crowd was wild, the Cajuns were confident, and with a lead, ULL was able to get into its usual offense. In an offensive style that can best be compared to basketball's "controlled chaos" during Bruce Pearl's Tennessee days, the Cajuns showed their versatility the most in the fifth inning, a frame that saw their lead extend to 9-4 with three runs. In the inning, Caleb Adams, who has 11 homers, bunted for a single. Three batters later, Dylan Butler, who entered the contest with five homers, hit a towering shot over the left field wall that was an absolute no-doubter.

That's this Cajuns brand of baseball.

"Inside this offense, you really have to be able to do it all," Caleb Adams said. "If Coach Deggs sees a big group of hitters waiting around during batting practice, he'll come over and tell us to go over there and practice bunting. Again, you just really have to be able to do everything to survive in this offense."

The Cajuns have approximately 50 bunt base hits this season, while they also now have 68 homers and 166 extra-base hits.

"A lot of people will look at our homers and people will say we're not built for Omaha because we hit some homers. I'm not looking forward, but we have a lot of bunts for base hits this year, too," coach Tony Robichaux said. "We can squeeze, we can do a lot of things.

"We really like to spin the game out of control with bunting," Robichaux said. "Then, someone makes a mistake and we get into our game."

The key for Ole Miss in Game 2 of the Lafayette Super Regional is very simple: The Rebels can't allow the Cajuns to have a big inning and get into their offense. On paper, Rebels lefthanded pitcher Christian Trent matches up well with the Cajuns. But then again, I can't tell you how many times coaches have said their pitcher matches up well with the Cajuns, only to look at the box score the next day and that said pitcher allowed nine or 10 runs.

Louisiana-Lafayette enters Sunday one win away from getting back to the College World Series in more than a decade.

"The Tigue" was in a frenzy even when the Cajuns were down early in the series opener between the two teams.

Tonight's atmosphere, as hard as it is to imagine, might just eclipse last night.

I've admitted the mistake of not getting to a Cajuns game before. But now I have, and boy, am I a believer now.

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