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From the Bird’s Nest: Cajuns/Jags rivalry: 2004-10

courtesy ragincajuns.com

Since 2003, the baseball rivalry between Louisiana and South Alabama has diminished somewhat, mainly because, with exception of 2005, both teams haven’t been fighting for a championship in the same season.  The Cajuns have won the league title in 2005, 2007 and 2010.  South Alabama tied for the league crown in 2004 with Middle Tennessee.  The Jags haven’t finished in the first division of the Sun Belt since 2006.

In 2004, South Alabama took two of three on the final weekend, which allowed them to be tied with MTSU for the league title.  The Cajuns finished fourth, three games behind. 

In 2005, it was on again as the Cajuns and Jags battled for the league title.  The Cajuns were led on the mound by Kevin Ardoin and Austin Faught, and toward the end of the year, a freshman named Hunter Moody emerged.  The two teams opened the conference season by playing three at Tigue Moore Field.  That series went to the Cajuns, two games to one and was highlighted by the biggest beatdown of the series, a 22-4 Cajuns’ win on Friday night.  The Cajuns wound up winning the title by one game, but clinched the championship in Bowling Green in the second game of a Saturday doubleheader.  South Alabama won the conference tournament down in Miami, beating Middle Tennessee in the finals.

In 2006, there was a new kid in town.  Troy entered the league and had a fine club that season.  The Cajuns and Jags once again opened conference play.  In game one of the series, Louisiana held the lead going into the bottom of the ninth.  Hunter Moody had out-pitched P. J. Walters in that game.  But Chad Beck blew the save in the ninth and South Alabama took a 7-6 win.  USA won two of three that weekend.  As it turned out, that game cost the Cajuns a tie for the conference championship.  They finished one game behind Troy, despite beating the Trojans in a series in Lafayette.  The conference tournament was in Bowling Green that year and was highlighted by the first meeting between Louisiana and South Alabama in the postseason since 1998.  The Cajuns won that game 8-5.  Having tied the season series 2-2, having finished two games ahead of the Jaguars in the league standings that year and having knocked USA out of the tournament, the Cajuns felt they had a berth to the NCAA Tournament in hand.  But on Monday, the Jaguars were in.  The Cajuns were out.  And, that blown save in game one of their regular season series loomed even bigger.

In 2007, the Cajuns ran away with the conference championship, winning the title by seven games over UNO, Middle Tennessee and Troy.  South Alabama, hosting the tournament, barely snuck in as the #8 seed.  The Cajuns swept the regular season series between the two clubs, but USA and Louisiana hooked up in a classic in the SBC tournament first round.  South Alabama carried a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning, but the Cajuns tied it in the bottom of the ninth and won it in extra innings when John Zorich, a pitcher, was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.  The Cajuns eliminated the Jaguars two days later, 5-0, when Brett Solich threw a complete game shutout with eleven strikeouts.  The Cajuns advance to the regional final in College Station that year.

In 2008, the Cajuns and Jaguars both finished in the second division of the league, with the Cajuns drawing the #6 seed and South Alabama #7.  The Cajuns won two of the three meetings in the regular season.  At the Sun Belt tournament in Lafayette, the Cajuns knocked off Troy, the #3 seed behind Hunter Moody and the Jaguars upset UNO.  The two teams met for a fourth time and again it was Solich who drew the assignment.  The senior lefty pitched another complete game and struck out twelve, leading the Cajuns to an 8-1 win.  From the 2006 tournament through the 2008 tournament, the Cajuns had won nine of ten games, the best streak for UL in the history of the rivalry.

The two teams finished fifth and sixth in the league in 2009.  South Alabama swept the Cajuns in Lafayette, the first time that had happened since Robichaux’s first season in 1995.  Then last year the Jags took two of three from the Cajuns, the last game a come-from-behind 12-11 win as USA scored seven times to come back from an 11-5 deficit.  That series was played in March and was part of the 14-14 start for the Cajuns, before they went 17-1 in conference in the final six weeks to tie Florida Atlantic for the league championship. 

Now it’s 2011.  The teams are currently tied for fourth place in the league standings at 8-7.  And, it will be the retiring coach Steve Kittrell’s last visit to Tigue Moore Field.  Something tells me there might be another chapter about to be written.

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