No. 7 Chants down Cajuns, move on to semifinals Saturday
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The No. 7 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers again got a quality start from their starting pitcher in Riley Eikhoff, and had a four-hit night from lead-off hitter Payton Eeles to defeat the No. 4-seeded Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns 6-3 on Thursday night and into Friday morning at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, Ala.
With the win, the Chants have extended their winning streak to a season-best nine consecutive wins, the most for a CCU team since 2016.
The Chanticleers (39-17) will have Friday (May 26) off before playing the winner of No. 4 Louisiana and No. 5 Texas State on Saturday, May 27, at 1:30 p.m. ET.
The Coastal offense hit two home runs in the contest, moving to 28-4 overall on the year when blasting multiple home runs in the same game, while with the six runs, CCU improved to 34-5 overall when scoring six runs or more for the contest.
On the mound, Eikhoff (2-1) recorded his second quality start in his last two starts and the second one of the conference championship tournament for the Chants following Liam Doyle’s quality outing on Wednesday.
Eikhoff picked up the win by holding Louisiana to just three runs on five hits, three walks, and four strikeouts over 6.2 innings of work.
Reliever Will Smith came out of the bullpen and pitched 2.0-scoreless innings, striking out one and walking one, over the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, while junior Teddy Sharkey (10) picked up his 10th save of the season by striking out the lone batter he faced on the night with the tying run on deck.
The loss fell to Louisiana starter Carson Fluno (3-1), as the right-handed pitcher was hit up for six runs on 11 hits, three walks, and two strikeouts while throwing 114 pitches over 5.1 innings on the mound.
Coastal’s offense was spearheaded by lead-off hitter Eeles (4-for-5, 2B, run, 2 SB) with a game-high four base hits, while the two home runs came from the eight and nine-hole hitters in Ty Dooley (2-for-3, HR, 2B, BB, RBI, 2 runs) and Blake Barthol (1-for-3, HR, BB, 2 RBIs, run, SB).
CCU’s RBI leader Derek Bender (2-for-5, 2B, 2 RBIs) drove in RBIs number 79 and 80 to put him in a tie for the third-most in CCU’s single-season history, while fellow Chant Graham Brown (1-for-5, 2B, RBI, run) recorded his 23rd double of the season, putting him just two doubles shy of the single-season record of 25.
For the Cajuns offensively, Julian Brock (2-for-3, RBI, BB) had two of the five base hits for the home team, while he along with Conor Higgs (0-for-4, RBI) and CJ Willis (0-for-3, RBI) all drove in an RBI in the loss.
The pitchers controlled the game early, as neither offense could get anything going until the top of the third inning, as Brown laced an RBI double to left field to put the visitors in gray on top 1-0.
Two batters later, following a single from Caden Bodine, Bender hit a double to center field to clear the bases and drive in two runs to push the Chants’ lead to 3-0 midway through the third inning.
Coastal added to its lead in the top of the fourth inning, as Barthol blasted his seventh home run of the season deep into the night in right field, a two-run shot to extend the lead to 5-0.
After Coastal’s Dooley hit a solo home run to left-center field, his fifth long ball of the year, in the top of the sixth to put the score at 6-0, the Ragin’ Cajuns finally broke through in the bottom half of the inning.
Eikhoff, who did not allow a hit over the third, fourth, and fifth innings, gave up a walk and one-out double after a ground out to start the sixth inning. Following an RBI ground out to second base, Brock picked up an RBI single up the middle to cut the lead to 6-2 heading into the seventh inning of play.
The Cajuns got an RBI ground out in the bottom half of the seventh inning to close the gap to 6-3, however, it was the last run to cross home plate for the game, as Smith pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and got the first two outs in the ninth before Sharkey closed the door with a strikeout to end the game.
Image courtesy: Coastal Athletics