Louisiana-Lafayette knocks out Mississippi State
Published 10:30 am Tuesday, June 3, 2014
On Sunday afternoon, Mississippi State was in firm control of the NCAA Tournament’s Lafayette Regional, with a clear and seemingly easy path to a super regional berth.
By the time they went to bed Monday night, the season was over.
After Louisiana-Lafayette jumped out to an early four-run lead in the regional championship game, the Bulldogs’ late-inning magic ran out. They left runners in scoring position in three consecutive innings, then went down meekly in the ninth and lost 5-3, finishing a season that started with promise and ended with disappointment.
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Mississippi State (39-24), last year’s national runner-up, won its first two games in the regional before losing two in a row to Louisiana-Lafayette.
“I hate this for our seniors,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. “The goal for this group was to win four postseason tournaments in four years and we came within inches of doing that.”
MSU’s pitching staff, one of its biggest strengths all season, was a major factor in the team’s demise.
It allowed 14 runs in its first regional loss on Sunday. Then, on Monday night, Lucas Laster (0-1), Jacob Lindgren and Jonathan Holder walked seven batters, hit three and threw threw three wild pitches. Three of the 10 free passes led to runs.
“We walked seven during the course of the game. That was the whole ballgame,” Cohen said. We have to play clean games to win championships. That is how we are built. Baseball is a game of inches and it certainly was there in the third inning.”
In contrast to the Bulldogs, Louisiana-Lafayette capped a comeback for the ages.
After being shut out by Jackson State in the regional opener, the Cajuns won four straight games to advance to the super regionals for the first time since 2000. They’ll host Ole Miss in a best-of-three series beginning Saturday night.
ULL (57-8) moved within three wins of tying the NCAA record since the 56-game regular season was implemented in 1992. Florida State won 60 games in 20002.
“I give a lot of credit to Mississippi State. They were a tough ball club,” ULL coach Tony Robichaux said. “The pitching that we faced was outstanding. We were going to have to be really good, our approach at the plate was going to have to be really good, and it was. I give credit to our fans too because that’s critical again, having the adrenaline that they gave us for this weekend has been phenomenal. We did a great job tonight.”
Louisiana-Lafayette pulled itself off the deck in the regional with outstanding hitting — it scored 34 runs in three losers’ bracket games — but got plenty of help from Mississippi State to finish off its championship run. It had seven hits in the game, but only needed two to score all of its runs.
Four walks and a wild pitch allowed the Cajuns to score three runs on only one hit in the top of the third inning. In the fourth, Seth Harrison was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and later scored on a squeeze bunt to stretch the lead to 4-0.
“We tried to jump on them early and hoped that it would just play to our benefit and it did,” said ULL second baseman Jace Conrad, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored and was named the regional’s Most Outstanding Player. “We give credit to our pitchers. We only put up five runs for them today compared to the 14 yesterday. They did a great job of keeping their push and just got outs for us.”
Mississippi State, despite its struggles on the mound, did hold the line in the middle innings and got back in the game.
Wes Rea’s sacrifice fly in the fourth inning put the Bulldogs on the board, and back-to-back RBI singles by C.T. Bradford and Brett Pirtle in the seventh pulled them within a run, 4-3.
Pirtle had three hits, Bradford had two, and each player drove in a run. Each player also was picked to the All-Regional team.
“We battled back,” Bradford said. “I wouldn’t want to be out there with any other group of guys. It’s been that way through 60 games for us. We have had our ups and downs. We just kept battling. That is why I liked this team so much.”
With runners at first and third, however, ULL reliever Matt Plitt caught Gavin Collins looking at strike three to end the threat. Mississippi State also left runners at the corners in the eighth inning, as well as in the sixth.
Plitt retired the Bulldogs in order in the ninth to send the Cajuns to the super regional.
Plitt struck out four batters and didn’t allow a run over the last 2 1/3 innings to earn his fifth save of the season. Starter Ryan Wilson (6-0) went 6 2/3 innings to get the win.
“Ryan went out and pitched a great game for us, and gave us everything he had” Robichaux said. “Matt has been one of the hottest guys out of our bullpen for the last 30 days and to come out there and get those big outs like he did was just huge.”