Louisiana Baseball Drops Season Opener to No. 14 UC-Irvine 7-4
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns baseball team lost their 2022 season opener against the UC-Irvine Anteaters at Russo Park.
The Cajuns and the 14th ranked Anteaters will have two more games in Lafayette, but game one went in favor of the road team. Louisiana head coach Matt Deggs complimented UC-Irvine, calling them a veteran club, and he chronicled the game afterwards.
"It was a tale of two or three different games," Deggs said. "They had a little momentum, and then we were able to swing our way back into it. We ran away from our approach and allowed them to get back into it on a couple of plays we probably needed to make. They stole all the momentum and were able to keep it away from us."
Louisiana starting pitcher Drew Shifflet gave up a leadoff single but came back to record two outs. However, the Anteaters got two more base runners with another single and a walk to load the bases. Shifflet forced a groundout to strand three runners in the first inning.
Cajuns outfielder Max Marusak got a leadoff infield hit, and outfielder Tyler Robertson bunted him over to second base to give Louisiana an early runner in scoring position. A strikeout and line-out ended the threat.
Shifflet started the second inning with a three-pitch strikeout, but UC-Irvine crushed a double and a two-run home run in the next two at-bats. The Anteaters took a 2-0 lead, and Shifflet walked two more batters before getting the inning-ending strikeout.
In his first collegiate at-bat, freshman shortstop Kyle DeBarge lead off the second inning with a single for the Cajuns. Third baseman Jonathan Brandon followed that up with a two-run home run to tie the game.
Brandon Talley relieved Shifflet with two outs in the third inning and stranded two more Anteaters with a strikeout. With momentum shifting towards the Cajuns, the offense started to crush the baseball. Connor Kimple hit a solo home run with two outs to give Louisiana their first lead, and Carson Roccaforte followed that at-bat with his own solo blast. The back-to-back homers put the Cajuns in front 4-2.
Talley kept the momentum by retiring all three Anteater batters he faced in the fourth. It was Louisiana's first clean inning on the mound in the game, but the bats went down in order to end the inning.
The fifth inning ended up being the difference in the game. Talley gave up a pair of hits, and an error on a bunt loaded the bases without any outs. This time, UC-Irvine took advantage with a three-run double to take a 5-4 lead. A bunt single and a RBI-single continued the huge inning for the Anteaters against Talley. The Cajuns reliever retired the last three hitters, but UC-Irvine scored five runs in a massive inning where the first six batters reached base.
Tommy Ray became the third pitcher for Louisiana when he entered in the sixth inning, and he shined in his debut for the Cajuns. The first batter he faced singled, but two strikeouts and a throw out by catcher Julian Brock on a runner trying to steal second ended the frame scoreless.
The Cajuns bats failed to reach base in the sixth. Following the back-to-back home runs in the third inning, nine of the next 10 Louisiana hitters were retired. Ray picked up two more strikeouts in a clean frame. He only needed eighth pitches to quickly sit the Anteaters down in order. The Cajuns recorded their first hit since Roccaforte's home run, but they couldn't do anything with it.
Ray came back out for his third inning of work and pitched his second straight hitless inning. However, the bats went in order in the eighth, sending the two teams to the last frame of regulation. Ray allowed a one-out double, but he worked around it to finish his night with four scoreless innings thrown in his Cajuns debut.
In the ninth inning, Louisiana's offense stayed quiet. They didn't get a base runner and were shutout in the final six innings of the game. The Cajuns lost 7-4 in their 2022 season opener.
Ray had a stellar debut for the Cajuns, and the offense showed signs of improvement in the early innings. There are positives to take away from the opening-season loss. Deggs talked about Ray's performance out of the bullpen.
"I thought we were too generous on the mound until Tommy got in there and pitched like we thought he could pitch," Deggs said. "He struggled a little in spring, but this is the third straight outing where he's been pretty good, so I think he's going to work his way into the weekend somehow pitching like that."
Deggs also complimented Louisiana's fanbase after the game. The official paid attendance for the game was announced at 4,346 fans.
"These fans are special," Deggs said. "They're hungry for some exciting baseball. When we start putting it all together, I think it's going to be a team that this fan base can really get behind. I appreciate all their support and I know the team did."
Up next, the Cajuns and Anteaters play game two of the weekend series on Saturday, Feb. 19 at 2:00 p.m. Sophomore RHP Peyton Havard will start for Louisiana.