LAFAYETTE, La. -- Linescores are funny things in baseball. The scoreboard can say one thing, but as long as your team has more in the first column, you go home a winner.
So try to explain this: 5-1-0.
That’s what the linescore read in the bottom of the third inning for ULL following a long three-run home run off the bat of designated hitter Tyler Girouard which sailed into the pine trees over the right-field fence. The Ragin’ Cajuns’ first hit gave them the lead for good in a 9-5 win against Ole Miss to take Game 1 of the best two-of-three Super Regional.
Louisiana-Lafayette explains it all in one word: grinding.Girouard’s bomb was the decisive blow, but ULL already had plated two runs without a hit against Ole Miss ace Chris Ellis thanks to three walks, a hit by pitch and a rare error by center fielder Auston Bousfield.
It was a game billed as a pitchers’ duel. After all, Ellis was chosen in the third round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in this week’s MLB draft and Louisiana-Lafayette starter Austin Robichaux was taken in the 18th round by the Los Angeles Angels. But pitchers’ duels on paper just never seem to ever pan out that way.
When asked what he struggled with, Ellis was blunt with his response.
“Throwing strikes. I struggled.”
It’s never an easy weekend for players selected in the MLB draft. Combine the emotions of playing on this national stage, with the thoughts of a professional future and it can cause issues for some.
Whether it did or did not, Ellis seemed a bit rattled, lasting just 2.1 innings in the second-shortest start of his career, while throwing 59 pitches. This from a guy who had won five of his past six starts, including a complete-game victory in the Oxford Regional against Jacksonville State.
“He lost command there -- he lost some composure,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “It happens -- but it hasn’t happened to him all year. You see it a lot from guys -- they all of a sudden lose their rhythm. He couldn’t get the ball back into the strike zone.”
A raucous crowd of 4,278 -- more than 500 above capacity, but not including those on the rooftops of RVs and houses -- sent Ellis on his way after the Girouard home run. Ellis’ counterpart Robichaux -- the son of head coach Tony Robichaux -- had all he needed, going seven innings scattering seven hits and allowing five runs for his eighth win of the season.
“After struggling the first couple innings he really found himself and got deep in the game and that’s what you want from your ace,” Bianco said of ULL’s starting pitcher.
“It was really hot out there -- he was soaking wet,” Robichaux said of his son. “I’m just glad [Sunday] night is an hour later.”
This ULL team is just so dangerous, even when their ace doesn’t have his best stuff. They can bunt, they can hit home runs, they can run -- it’s a relentless attack once it gets going. Girouard’s home run was only his third of the season. When Dylan Butler hit a solo home run in the fifth inning, it was his sixth. The guy with 11 home runs? He bunted in the same fifth inning. Go figure.
“We gave them too many opportunities and they are too good of a team to do that,” Bianco said. “You don’t see that [kind of offense]. There are people that play a short game, but not like that. They have a lot of good hitters in their lineup. They handle a lot of different pitches. We came into the week saying we have to limit their opportunities -- and we didn’t do that. You can’t do that against most teams and win.”
And that’s Louisiana-Lafayette’s game plan. That’s the plan of attack.
“Putting up nine runs is definitely a big deal against a team of that caliber,” ULL’s Caleb Adams said. “We’re a bunch of guys that, in order to play in this offense, you need to be able to do a lot of things. Everything matters -- one bunt, a stolen base … they can really change a game. You have to be able to do it all.”
His head coach preaches it every day.
“A lot of people think we’re all about the long ball, but we’re not,” Tony Robichaux said. “We get bunt base hits, we can squeeze. We want to put people in position to make mistakes. I’ve said this before, but we want to play good defense, pitch well and get timely hits.”
Cajuns baseball -- rise and grind. And they can make linescores look real weird in the process.