June 2, 2014 3:29:09 AM
LAFAYETTE, La. -- The wake up call for Louisiana-Lafayette's offense happened early Sunday morning.
Ragin' Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said his team was scheduled for mass and breakfast at 9:30 a.m. and not long after that was over ULL began its destruction of soft-tossing arms from the state of Mississippi.
Less than an hour after easily disposing of the available pitching Jackson State had left to offer in a 11-1 blowout, ULL (56-8) immediately turned its attention to lighting up the scoreboard on Mississippi State left-handed ace Ross Mitchell.
Mitchell's soft-tossing style that relies on soft contact and ground balls appeared to have no chance against an aggressive and confident lineup that the Ragin' Cajuns put out in front of their rabid home fans Sunday night.
ULL knocked out Mitchell (8-5) after just three innings in a dominant 14-8 performance to force a winner-take-all championship game tonight at 6 p.m.
"We knew the guy Mississippi State was going to throw at us was the same type of soft tossing arm that Jackson State threw at us earlier in the day," ULL outfielder Seth Harrison said. "We had a good idea of what our approach needed to be. We gave them a good idea whose home field this is tonight."
ULL got multiple hits from seven of the nine members of the lineup and lit up MSU for the second most runs scored on the Bulldogs this season. The 14 runs by the Ragin' Cajuns were the most scored on MSU in a NCAA tournament game since Texas Tech plated 17 in a 2004 NCAA Regional game in Atlanta.
Most the 18 ULL hits Sunday night wouldn't be categorized as the cheap variety. Neither Mitchell or MSU relievers Myles Gentry, Brandon Woodruff or Vance Tatum missed solid contact from one of the nation's most dangerous offensive attacks. ULL had five extra-base hits and only three strikeouts all evening.
The destruction of one of the better pitchers in the Southeastern Conference for a 13-3 lead after four innings had the announced crowd of 3,729 at M.L. Tigue Moore Field mockingly chanting "S-E-C" after each and every ULL run that was scored.
"We have to get a better performance on the mound Monday," MSU coach John Cohen said. "However you have to give ULL a lot of credit for that being the case because they showed why they're such a good offensive club tonight."
Everybody hitting 2-8 in the ULL order drove in a run and scored a run giving senior left-hander Cody Boutte all the run support anybody could ever ask for in an elimination game at home.
Boutte struggled in the third inning by allowing MSU to tie the score at 3 before watching his teammates build the advantage back up to 6-3 in the bottom half of the frame. From that moment on, Boutte (9-0) managed to get 11 of the next 12 MSU batters out and didn't allow another hit until the seventh.
"I think this game is about who can make the biggest push," Boutte said. "Once the third inning happened against me, I had to get to the dugout and realize that's probably going to be their one bg push. You don't know how easy it is to throw behind 14 runs."
Boutte, a first-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection as the Sunday starter for ULL, wasn't missing many MSU bats early as the Bulldogs got the leadoff batter on each of the first three innings but weren't able to convert on many opportunities with runners in scoring position.
ULL came into this regional leading the nation in slugging percentage and scored more than eight runs in a game for the 30th time this season. All of this offensive explosion occurred after the Ragin' Cajuns were stunned Friday night in a 1-0 upset loss to Jackson State to begin the NCAA Lafayette Regional.
"We needed to get back to our approach at the plate because it wasn't good enough on opening night of this tournament," Robichaux said. "Sometimes when you play a doubleheader, you get in a groove and it's possible the advantage goes to the team that has been playing all day.
ULL was determined to not let that offensive ineptitude occur again against one of the SEC's best pitching clubs as junior hometown hero Jace Conrad powered a shot over the right field wall. The two-run home run, Conrad's eighth of the season, before MSU (39-23) had even recorded an out was just a warning shot to the destruction to come over the next three hours. Conrad would finish the night 3-of-5 with three RBI and two run scored but had nine RBIs total in the day after driving in six against Jackson State in the previous elimination game.
"I honestly don't know what it was about today that was different," Conrad said. "I knew I hadn't had a good game in the last two days after leaving runners on base and not giving my team a good chance at victory."
MSU tried to mount a comeback but were overwhelmed by 11 unanswered runs after they tied it in the top half of the third inning to guarantee a winner-take-all championship game tonight. Through three games of the tournament, MSU has saved All-SEC first team reliever Jacob Lindgren for what is now its most important game of the season. Cohen announced after the loss Sunday night that junior Lucas Laster (0-0, 1.97) will start the game for the Bulldogs.
"All year we've been battle tested and had tough losses but we've done the same thing to regroup at night to get ready to compete the next day," MSU senior outfielder C.T. Bradford said.
Bradford ended Sunday night 3-for-5 with two runs scored and a RBI after going hitless in the first two regional games in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Robichaux said he was leaning toward starting left-hander reliever Ryan Wilson (5-0, 1.69) as the Ragin' Cajuns have saved a senior that Baseball America has rated as the 35th best pitcher in his draft class. Wilson has only gone longer than four innings in an outing five times this season but has given up just five earned runs in the last two months.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
3. Works in Wood exhibit opens today in West Point ENTERTAINMENT