From the Bird’s Nest: Cajuns miss opportunity against Rice
Last night, Louisiana hosted Rice for the first time in eighteen years. It's not often a team of that caliber comes to Tigue Moore Field. And therefore, it was an opportunity. An opportunity to showcase everything good about the ball park. An opportunity to showcase the great fan base. And, an opportunity to get another badly needed resume booster.
Check. Check. Oops.
There's no question that last night had a chance to be special. There was a capacity crowd on hand, the first advance sellout of Tigue Moore since LSU's last visit in 2002. The crowd was there to see good baseball and the teams didn't disappoint.
But the Cajuns did.
Earlier in the season, the Cajuns defeated the Owls in Houston, 2-0. It was one of the more bizarre games I've ever witnessed. Rice stranded eighteen base runners without scoring. Crazy, I tell you. The Cajuns hold wins against Rice, LSU and Southern Miss this season, all good resume boosters. But, make no mistake, the Cajuns needed the one last night. Right now, according to the latest sebaseball.com projections, the Cajuns are listed as one of the last five teams to make it into the NCAA tournament. Last night they had a chance to solidify that. The loss doesn't kill the Cajuns, not by any means. But a win sure would have helped.
Ryland Parker was phenomenal last night. Parker, who was a bullpen mainstay last season, especially down the stretch, hasn't pitched that much, and hasn't been that effective when he has. Parker was overused last summer and really had not recovered. But last night, Parker's breaking ball was superb. So was his control. And those two things, combined with a good fastball, kept the Owls at bay most of the night.
When you play a team like Rice, you win by taking advantage of opportunities and limiting the opportunities of the opponent. The Cajuns missed an opportunity in the first inning by failing to get a run home from third with less than two outs. Jordan Porrier tapped a ground ball and Alex Fuselier was caught off third base for the second out and the Cajuns didn't get the two out hit. Opportunity missed.
Louisiana finally got on the board next time through the lineup when Porrier got a two out single to give the Cajuns a 1-0 lead. For six innings, Parker did the rest.
But the Cajuns gave Rice another opportunity in the seventh. A line drive off the glove of freshman first baseman Chase Compton gave the Owls a runner at second base. It is a ball that I thought Compton should have caught although it was ruled a double. A grounder moved the runner to third and a wild pitch got him home. That ended Parker's night.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Cajuns got a base runner with one out. Brian Bowman pinch ran and with the count ball one, took off for second. In that situation, the batter is supposed to take and give Bowman a chance. But Jordan Bourque swung and fouled off the pitch. Now Rice knows that Bowman wants to run. The Cajuns called for a push bunt, which, at the very least, gets Bowman to second for the hot-hitting Alex Fuselier. But Bourque missed the bunt and Bowman inexplicably got caught off first base. (And, as it turned out, Fuselier led off the eighth with a base hit.) Opportunity missed.
Joey Satriano came on and pitched very well. But J. T. Chargois got a good swing on a 2-2 fastball (two-seamer) and hit it out to right field, giving Rice the 2-1 advantage.
In the bottom of the eighth, Fuselier got the aforementioned hit, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. Some have criticized that move, but I'm not one of them. Fuselier had the play in front of him and thought he could make it. It took a perfect throw from leftfielder Daniel Gonzales-Luna to get him. If Fuse makes it, Fontenot bunts him to third and then you have lots of options with Mike Petello up. It just didn't work out. That's baseball. Opportunity missed.
And, as it turned out, it was the last opportunity.
Against Rice, a team that pitches as well as anyone, you just aren't going to get many opportunities and you have to cash in when you get them. Didn't happen.
All is not lost for the Cajuns as far as an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament is concerned. But their margin for error is small. They have to take care of their business this weekend first and foremost. Then it's off to Monroe to face a ULM team that is fighting to get into the conference tournament that they are hosting. Then, regardless of their seeding, the Cajuns must have a good showing in the tournament.
It's still doable. But the Cajuns must take advantage of opportunities the rest of the way.