Golden Eagles, Ragin’ Cajuns earn spots in Sunday’s Sun Belt tourney title game

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After each playing two games on semifinal Saturday, Southern Miss and Louisiana advanced to the championship final at the 2023 Guardian Credit Union Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championship presented by Troy University in Montgomery, Ala.

The Golden Eagles—who are in their first year in the conference—and the reigning tournament champion Ragin’ Cajuns will meet in the winner-take-all championship game at 1:00 p.m. CT Sunday.

Southern Miss took 2-of-3 from Louisiana in Hattiesburg in the regular-season series.

GAME 13 – No. 6 seed App State def. No. 2 seed Southern Miss, 4-2
App State forced the 4:00 p.m. if-necessary game with a 4-2 victory over Southern Miss in Saturday’s opener.

The Mountaineers loaded the bases in the bottom of the first with back-to-back singles from sophomore outfielder CJ Boyd and junior outfielder Xavier Moronta to lead things off and a two-out walk from redshirt senior first baseman Golston Gillespie. Southern Miss junior right-handed pitcher Matt Adams got Mountaineer redshirt sophomore shortstop Austin St. Laurent to pop up to the second baseman to end the inning.

Sophomore outfielder Carson Paetow walked to lead off the top of the third for Southern Miss, then took two bags on a wild pitch that skirted away from the catcher to stand on third with no outs. After junior catcher Rodrigo Montenegro struck out, junior outfielder Matthew Etzel plated Paetow with a sacrifice fly to left. Two pitches later, junior shortstop Dustin Dickerson did one better, sending a 1-0 pitch sailing 403 feet over the left field fence for a solo home run to make it 2-0 Golden Eagles.

App State answered back in the bottom half of the frame. Junior outfielder Xavier Moronta set the table for the Mountaineers with a leadoff double and came around to score on a single to right by senior catcher Hayden Cross to draw back within one, 2-1.

With two on and two out in the top of the fourth, App State junior right-handed pitcher Grey LaSpaluto induced a Montenegro fly out to center to end the Golden Eagle threat. In the bottom half, a one-out single by senior third baseman Andrew Terrell got things started for the Mountaineers. Terrell moved to third on a Boyd double into the right field corner and Moronta plated him with a sacrifice fly to center to draw even, 2-2.

A bases-loaded stinging comebacker from Boyd plated one for App State in the bottom of the sixth and a sacrifice fly to center by senior second baseman Luke Drumheller scored another to make it 4-2 Mountaineers.

After the Golden Eagles left a man on base in the seventh and eighth, App State turned to freshman right-handed pitcher Jackson Steensma to close it out. Steensma needed just 11 pitches to sit down the bottom third of Southern Miss’ lineup and earn his seventh save of the season.

LaSpaluto earned the win for the Mountaineers—tossing 4.0 innings of one-run baseball in relief.

GAME 14 – No. 4 seed Louisiana def. No. 1 seed Coastal Carolina, 7-3
Louisiana forced the 7:30 p.m. if-necessary game with a 7-3 victory over Coastal Carolina after the Ragin’ Cajuns pitchers held the Chanticleers offense scoreless over the final seven frames.

A 357-foot blast down the left field line off the bat of senior outfielder Graham Brown gave the Chanticleers an early 1-0 advantage.

Freshman third baseman Blake Barthol followed a pair of singles from senior first baseman Zack Beach and freshman outfielder Jake Books with a two-out, two-RBI double in the bottom of the second to make it 3-0 in favor of Coastal Carolina.

Louisiana junior John Taylor flashed the leather at second base to keep a ball in the infield, record the third out of the inning and end the Chanticleer threat in the bottom of the third. Coastal Carolina returned the favor in the top half of the fourth, thwarting a Ragin’ Cajuns double-steal attempt and taking the wind out of the sails of a two-on, two-out opportunity by throwing out junior outfielder Carson Roccaforte as he attempted to return to third base.

The Ragin’ Cajuns put up a big inning in the top of the fifth, when a single up the middle from senior designated hitter Will Veillon, a double down the left field line from senior third baseman Max Marusak and a double to right center from sophomore shortstop Kyle DeBarge in three-straight at-bats combined to score four and give Louisiana its first lead of the game, 4-3.

Books hit a leadoff double into right center in the bottom of the sixth—and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt—but was stranded there when Barthol struck out and super senior second baseman Payton Eeles grounded out.

The Louisiana bullpen tossed 6.1 scoreless innings, with senior right-hander Jerry Couch earning the win with 1.1 innings of work and junior lefty Blake Marshall picking up his fifth save over 4.0 innings.

GAME 15 – No. 2 seed Southern Miss def. No. 6 seed App State, 11-1 (7 Innings)
Southern Miss got a seven-inning complete game out of sophomore right-handed pitcher Will Armistead—and 11 runs out of its offense—to advance to the finale of the Sun Belt Baseball Championship.

The Golden Eagles wasted no time getting going in the second game of the day against the Mountaineers. A double off the wall in right center by senior first baseman Chris Sargent plated two in the bottom of the first.

Southern Miss starter—sophomore righty Will Armistead—then worked out of a two-on, nobody-out jam in the top of the second to preserve the early 2-0 lead.

A single up the middle by junior outfielder Matthew Etzel brought in sophomore outfielder Carson Paetow—who reached on a leadoff double to left center—for the Golden Eagles third run in the bottom of the second.

Three RBI doubles—by senior third baseman Danny Lynch, freshman second baseman Nick Monistere and Etzel—and an RBI single from junior shortstop Dustin Dickerson extended the Southern Miss lead to 7-1 in the bottom of the third.

Sophomore outfielder Carson Paetow stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth with two outs and the bases loaded. He delivered a double to left center to plate a pair and make it 9-1 Golden Eagles.

Slade Wilks, the Golden Eagles’ junior designated hitter, connected for a 397 foot homer to right center with one out in the bottom of the seventh to put Southern Miss within striking distance of the run rule. Sargent was hit by a pitch and a single to left center moved him to third, bringing none other than Lynch to the plate with a walk-off opportunity. The senior sailed a fly ball into left field and Sargent raced 90 feet home on the walk-off sacrifice fly to send the Golden Eagles flying into Sunday.

GAME 16 – No. 4 seed Louisiana def. No. 1 seed Coastal Carolina, 4-1
The second gutty relief effort from junior left-handed pitcher Blake Marshall on the day helped lift the reigning tournament champion Ragin’ Cajuns back into the Sun Belt Baseball Championship final.

With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, Ragin’ Cajuns junior outfielder Carson Roccaforte put a charge into a 1-0 pitch, sending it over the wall in right field to give Louisiana an early 1-0 edge.

A two-out double to right by super senior outfielder Nick Lucky plated the equalizer for Coastal Carolina in the top of the third. Louisiana got the run back—and retook the lead at 2-1—on a sacrifice fly from sophomore shortstop Kyle DeBarge in the bottom of the frame. DeBarge drove in senior designated hitter Will Veillon, who reached on a double down the left field line and advanced to third on a single by senior third baseman Max Marusak.

Louisiana mounted a two-out rally in the bottom of the sixth, sparked by a single off the bat of junior catcher Julian Brock to center. Following a walk by senior outfielder Heath Hood, junior second baseman John Taylor sent a well-struck ball off the wall in left center for a long single that drove in both Brock and Hood to make the Ragin’ Cajuns lead 4-1.

Defensively, Nick Lucky made all three outs in the bottom of the seventh for the Chanticleers, punctuated by a diving catch on the run in center that robbed Roccaforte of a double.

Marshall worked around a leadoff walk and a single by Chanticleers sophomore shortstop Ty Dooley in the eighth, inducing a double play and then knocking down a Lucky comebacker to get out of the inning unscathed.

The Chanticleers finally chased Marshall in the top of the ninth, after getting runners on the corners via a walk by sophomore Derek Bender and a single to right by freshman third baseman Blake Barthol. Junior right-handed pitcher JT Etheridge got the final two outs to secure his second save of the season.

Marshall tossed 5.1 innings of two-hit baseball in relief, throwing 84 pitches in the nightcap after earning the save with a 4.0 inning, 63-pitch outing in the afternoon meeting.

Sunday, May 28
Championship Game – No. 4 Seed Louisiana vs. No. 2 Seed Southern Miss, 1:00 p.m. CT

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