Two Amazing Performances in Little Rock – From the Bird’s Nest
I really don't know which was more impressive.
But there were two outrageous performances by Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns over the weekend in Little Rock.
The first happened Friday night. Austin Robichaux turned in his third straight sparkling performance on the mound as he outdueled the preseason Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year Chance Cleveland, 9-2.
Virtually everything he threw had late downward movement, His fast ball came in on the hands of the right handed batters. His breaking pitches baffled the UALR hitters all night. He had fourteen strikeouts, besting his previous mark by six. He faced just five batters over the minimum (two hits, two walks, one hit batsman). He held the top three hitters in the Trojans' lineup to 1-12 with eight strikeouts.
Dad and head coach Tony made the decision to move the lanky right hander to the Friday night slot, believing it was the Cajuns best chance against Chance Cleveland, the UALR ace.
As it turned out, it might not have mattered anyway. The Cajuns got to Cleveland for six runs in 4.2 innings. The Cajuns collected eleven hits and won 9-2. Robichaux threw 120 pitches, seven fewer than he did the previous Saturday against Troy. Robichaux was named the SBC and Louisiana's Sportswriters' Association Pitcher of the Week. Robichaux might have won the SBC award the week before had Arkansas State's Daniel Wright not thrown a shutout with eleven strikeouts against WKU.
UALR won Saturday's game and looked like they were on their way to a second consecutive series win over the Cajuns on Sunday, leading 9-6 going into the ninth inning.
Since the team had bused from Natchitoches right after Wednesday's game, I drove up on Thursday. I was thinking as the ninth inning got ready to start, it might have been a good decision not to ride the bus.
Then came the ninth, and one of the most productive innings I've witnessed in my 21 years of covering Cajuns' baseball.
It didn't seem likely. The Cajuns had a golden opportunity in the eighth inning, scoring a run to get within 9-6. But Louisiana lost an opportunity for a bigger inning when Caleb Adams hit into a bases loaded double play to end the threat.
But in the ninth, Dex Kjerstad led off with a single. Jace Conrad singled as well and Ryan Leoards hit one off the left-center field wall. But Kjerstad didn't read the ball properly and only got to third. Leonards wound up at second base at the same time as Conrad, and was thrown out trying to get back to first.
You figured that mistake would end any chance. I know I did.
But then Tyler Girouards ground ball was muffed by second baseman Chris Burk, scoring Kjerstad. Conrad scored on a wild pitch. Seth Harrison singled. Michael Strentz singled home a run. Dylan Butler doubled home two more to give the Cajuns the lead. Blake Trahsn singled home two more runs. Kjerstad doubled home a run and got his fifth hit of the game, tying a school record. Conrad and Leonards followed with RBI singles.
The Cajuns didn't benefit from a walk or hit batsman. The Burk error made three of the runs unearned, but the bottom line is the Cajuns got ten hits.
In one inning.
And, a team that had showed fight all season long, showed it in a critical time on Sunday.
Let's not get too ahead of ourselves. The Cajuns have some real bullpen issues. For the third straight conference game, Matt Hicks was hit hard. The Cajuns bullpen gave up a pair of three run homers over the weekend.
But Friday night was something special. So was Sunday.
Special enough to where I wouldn't have minded being on that bus, after all.