Ben Fitzgerald’s Eighth-Inning Grand Slam Lifts Cajuns in 7-2 Win
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns pitching staff was excellent, and a late eighth-inning grand slam by Ben Fitzgerald lifted them to a 7-2 victory over the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
With the win, the Cajuns are now 32-22 this season. They won pool C and will advance to play Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt Tournament semifinals on Saturday at 4:00 p.m.
Drake Osborn got Louisiana off to a good start with a solo home run on the second pitch of the game off of App State ace Tyler Tuthill.
In the third inning, CJ Willis started a one-out rally with a walk. Osborn followed with his second hit of the game, and Tyler Robertson cracked a RBI-double to increase the lead to 2-0. Brennan Breaux hit a sacrifice-fly to bring Osborn home and Louisiana went up 3-0.
The Cajuns starting pitcher Connor Cooke responded to the early 3-0 lead by throwing four scoreless innings while allowing only two hits to open the game.
In the fourth inning, Louisiana had another chance to score on the Mountaineers ace, using a hit-by-pitch and single to put runners at the corners with only one out. However, a fly-out was not deep enough to bring the fourth run in, and App State used a double-play with an out at the plate to escape the threat.
The Mountaineers used that momentum and finally broke through against Cooke in the fifth inning. Two one-out walks to the eight and nine hole hitters in the App State lineup both came in to score on a two-out RBI-single, and the Mountaineers had crept within one run at 3-2.
Brandon Talley entered the game in relief of Cooke and got the final out of the fifth to keep the Cajuns in front. Talley went on to pitch two full hitless innings, striking out four of the six batters he faced. He was awarded the win after his dominant performance out of the bullpen.
While Talley was unhittable for the Cajuns, Louisiana's offense sputtered against Tuthill. Including the double-play to end the fourth inning, Tuthill retired 10-straight Louisiana batters, dominating in three clean innings to keep the Mountaineers in it.
With two outs in the seventh inning, in a one-run 3-2 game, Louisiana head coach Matt Deggs pulled Talley to bring on Spencer Arrighetti.
Arrighetti, the Friday night starter for most of the season, shined out of the bullpen for the Cajuns in a tight game. He got the final out of the seventh and stranded two base runners in the eighth inning.
In the bottom half of the eighth, Willis started up another rally with a leadoff double to break the streak of 10-straight retired batters. Osborn was hit by a pitch and Robertson used a sac-bunt to move both runners into scoring position. App State issued an intentional walk to Breaux and Tuthill struck out Bobby Lada before Ben Fitzgerald came to bat with two outs and the bases loaded.
Fitzgerald delivered with a grand slam that broke the game open and gave Louisiana their biggest lead of the night at 7-2.
It was Fitzgerald's 12th home run of the season and his first since April 25th against Little Rock. Deggs said that his star hitter was due for a big hit like that one.
"He was due for something like that," Deggs said. "He's been grinding his gears for a month now and was due for a big hit. That gave us some separation."
Arrighetti came back out for the ninth inning and retired the Mountaineers in order to earn his second save of the year and give the Cajuns the 7-2 victory. He finished with 2.1 hitless innings with one walk and three strikeouts.
Arrighetti and Talley combined to throw 4.1 innings out of the bullpen without allowing a hit. They struck out seven batters out of the 15 that they faced.
Deggs defended his decision to use Arrighetti out of the bullpen by saying the team would do whatever they could to win the elimination game.
"There's an art to winning tournaments, and you do whatever it takes to get the first game," Deggs said. "This was our first game. Last night was not our first game. The next game is a money game."
Up next, Louisiana plays the Georgia Southern Eagles in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament semifinals. The Eagles are 32-22 this season and 14-10 in conference play. They advanced to the semifinals as the #2 seed out of the East by beating Georgia State on Wednesday. The Cajuns and Eagles have not played this season.