LAFAYETTE — Evan Challenger lived up to his billing.
So did freshman Gunner Leger.
With the pitchers stringing together scoreless innings, Georgia Southern went to one of its little-used weapons Friday night, and the result was a 2-1 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette in the opening game of their three-game Sun Belt Conference series.
The visiting Eagles (18-13, 8-5) had put down only nine sacrifice bunts all season. On Friday, GSU dropped four of them — including a pair of squeeze bunts that scored the Eagles’ only runs in the first and eighth innings.
But Challenger made it stand up, coming back after a leadoff homer by Cajuns second baseman Stefan Trosclair to retire the next 14 batters. In all, Challenger allowed one hit over seven innings after Trosclair’s homer while striking out nine.
“We just didn’t make any adjustments throughout the game,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said. “The guy’s a good pitcher. He does a great job of what I call back-and-forth — he changes speeds on a linear path and, if you do that, you’re going to give hitters trouble.”
Trosclair’s second homer of the year came on Challenger’s first pitch. It was the first home run he has given up this season and came after Challenger took last weekend off with a sore arm.
“You never know, when a guy goes a couple of weeks without throwing, what you’re going to get,” Eagles coach Rodney Hennon said. “He gives up the leadoff home run, and it didn’t seem to faze him. He’s a competitor, and he settled in and got in a nice rhythm out there.”
The Cajuns didn’t manage a base runner until Tyler Girouard got a two-out single in the fifth. He reached third base on Challenger’s wild pickoff throw, but Challenger (3-0) fanned Joe Robbins to get out of the threat.
That was the last time UL-Lafayette had a runner past second base. Derek Herrington reached on an error and was sacrificed up in the sixth before getting caught stealing, and in the eighth Dylan Butler drew a leadoff walk. Left-handed reliever Jason Richman got an out, hit Robbins to put the tying and go-ahead runners on base, but got a strikeout and a ground ball to end the threat.
The Cajuns’ only other hit was a one-out single by Blake Trahan in the ninth — one that extended an 18-game hitting streak — but Richman coaxed a game-ending double-play grounder from Greg Davis.
“The way you battle an arm like that is you go out and pitch and you match him,” Robichaux said. “I can’t say enough about what Gunner did. He pretty much matched him all the way through the game.”
The Eagles got a first-inning run off Leger (3-2) on a leadoff single by Kody Adams, a one-out infield single off Leger’s glove by Chase Griffin, and Hunter Thomas’ safety squeeze that scored Adams for the 1-0 lead.
Leger continually worked out of trouble over most of the next seven innings in this first meeting between the teams. He ended up scattering eight hits and stranding runners at third base in the second, fifth and seventh innings.
In the eighth, Aaron Mizell led off with a bloop single to right, moved up on Griffin’s infield chopper and went to third on a wild pitch. Thomas drew a walk, and Dalton Busby put down a one-out safety squeeze.
Leger fielded it but threw wildly to catcher Nick Thurman, allowing Busby to score and letting runners move to second and third. A ground ball turned into an out at the plate, and reliever Will Bacon came in to fan Cody Lanford for the third out.
“The throw to the plate, it was the right call,” Robichaux said. “I think he gets him if he gets a good throw to the plate; ... the ball bounced up on him a little bit. But I give him credit, that’s a true freshman and he tried to make an aggressive play. He went after it.”
The teams play again at 6:05 p.m. Saturday with senior right-hander Greg Milhorn (1-0, 3.70) taking the mound for UL-Lafayette against Eagles senior right-hander Tripp Sheppard (2-2, 3.03).
“We’ve got to move on and get back out tomorrow,” Robichaux said. “Milhorn’s got to do the same thing for us, and we’re going to have to work and keep the score down and play defense.”