The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns baseball team used a late eighth inning rally to beat the nationally ranked UC-Irvine Anteaters 5-3.

With the win, Louisiana is now 2-1 overall. The Cajuns put a pair of runs on the board early, but the offense was quiet for most of the game. Louisiana's pitching staff did an excellent job of holding back an efficient Anteaters offense, especially in the late innings. And, when the Cajuns were finally able to put together a big inning, it was enough to win them the opening series at Russo Park.

Head coach Matt Deggs talked about his bullpen pitchers after the victory.

"There was big intent coming off of both of them, and they challenged the strike zone," Deggs said. "That was the key to the game. We just challenged the strike zone."

Louisiana's offense struck first in the second inning. Connor Kimple crushed his third home run of the weekend, and Jonathan Brandon brought home Carson Roccaforte on a clutch, two-out RBI-single. The Cajuns took an early 2-0 lead.

Starting pitcher Jeff Wilson retired the first eight batters he faced, but he ran into trouble in the third inning. With two outs, the nine-hole hitter got a hit for the Anteaters, and that sparked a rally of four straight hits to score three runs to take the lead.

The Cajuns were in a position to answer in the bottom half of the third when Tyler Robertson was hit by a pitch and Kyle DeBarge earned a one-out walk. Instead, a double-play ended the threat.

Wilson bounced back on the mound with a clean fourth inning, but he was relieved by Trey LaFleur in the fifth. LaFleur pitched well for the Cajuns in his debut, but a two-out walk in the sixth inning ended his day. Louisiana caught the runner trying to steal to end the frame.

In the bottom half of the sixth, Kimple recorded Louisiana's first hit since Brandon's RBI-single in the second inning. With two outs, he stole second base and advanced to third on a throwing error. However, a fly-out stranded the tying runner at third base and the Anteaters maintained their lead.

Bo Bonds, another Cajun pitcher making his debut appearance with Louisiana, struck out a pair of UC-Irvine batters in a dominant seventh inning. The pitching staff kept the door open for Louisiana, but the Cajuns bats needed to get going. Instead, they closed the seventh inning by going down in order.

Bonds got two more strikeouts in another sharp 1-2-3 frame. The Anteaters went to their closer in the eighth inning to face the top of Louisiana's lineup, and the Cajuns offense finally exploded.

Max Marusak started things off with a single, and he used his speed to steal second base, putting the tying run in scoring position. Robertson walked, and, on DeBarge's strikeout, they stole second and third to put the leading runner on second with one out for Kimple. The Anteaters intentionally walked Kimple to load the bases and face Roccaforte. The Cajuns first baseman made them pay with a two-RBI single to give Louisiana a 4-3 lead.

Deggs talked about the decision to let his players swing the bat instead of bunting the tying run over.

"We bunt to create, we don't bunt to finish," Deggs said. "We didn't work as hard as we worked to tie somebody. I trust our guys. I trust their approach at the plate, and they were just on their own right there."

With two outs, CJ Willis added an insurance run on a clutch RBI-single to make it 5-3. Deggs brought Bonds back out for the ninth inning, and the reliever retired each of the final three batters without trouble. The Cajuns took their season-opening series victory over nationally ranked UC-Irvine.

Bonds got the win, and he was incredible out of the bullpen. Because he was the pitcher when the Cajuns caught a runner stealing to end the sixth, he was credited with 3.1 innings pitched. He faced nine batters and retired all nine of them, recording five strikeouts in the process. LaFleur and Bonds kept the door open for Louisiana's offense, and they finally got the big inning in the eighth to win the game and series.

Up next, Louisiana hosts the Southeastern Louisiana Lions for a midweek game at Russo Park on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. The Lions are 2-1 to start the season.

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