It’s a play that Louisiana-Lafayette’s baseball team works on regularly, but uses frugally.
After all, Ragin’ Cajun coach Tony Robichaux says, once you execute the double-squeeze once, the scouting report quickly spreads.
“We try to use it sparingly,” Robichaux said Sunday, “because after that, they know what you’re doing.”
On Sunday, the Cajuns executed the rare play to perfection, scoring two momentum-turning runs against Arizona in what eventually became a 10-3 win over Arizona in the NCAA regional winners’ bracket final.
UL-Lafayette led 7-3 in Sunday’s fifth inning at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field, but the second-seeded Wildcats had just pushed across two runs on Cody Ramer’s two-run homer to get back within striking range in the top of the fifth.
Alex Pinero singled to open the Cajun half of the fifth and was sacrificed up by Nick Thurman. Nine-hole hitter Brad Antchak, who has platooned at shortstop for most of the season, followed with a perfect bunt down the third-base line for a base hit, and promptly stole second.
That brought up leadoff hitter Brian Mills and prompted Cajuns third base coach Jeremy Talbot to send a sign for a third straight bunt. But he had more in mind than the normal squeeze that UL-Lafayette often uses.
“When they (Arizona) called time and had a meeting, coach (Talbot) told me if we squeezed, to make sure to get it back to the pitcher,” Mills said. “I kind of knew it was coming and he gave it to me.”
Mills bunted right back to Wildcat reliever Austin Schnabel — by design — and Schnabel hesitated with a quick look at home before lobbing his throw to first base. Pinero slid across easily on the squeeze, and when Schnabel arched the throw to first, Antchak never slowed down and scored from second base.
That made it 9-3, and Arizona never threatened again.
“When you score, you want to throw up a zero after that,” said Ramer, whose two-run shot was only his second of the year. “When they put up that two, it was a dagger.”
“It’s a momentum killer, man,” Robichaux said. “I’ve had it done to us. Brian executed it very well. If that bunt goes to either side of the pitcher, he’ll eat it. When it comes right back to them and we score (on the squeeze), most pitchers will lob it over because they’re upset.”
Mills had singled and scored one inning earlier in UL-Lafayette’s second three-run inning of the game. He got a fastball up from Schnabel, a pitch that surprised him.
“I was expecting a bad pitch,” the senior said. “But I was set in my mind that I was going to get it down wherever it was.”
“It was impressive,” said Arizona coach Jay Johnson, whose team was forced into a late-Sunday elimination game against Sam Houston State. “They played it extremely well. Give them a lot of credit. I hope we can get to the point tonight that we can look at everything and see where we need to improve.”
Talbot, who coaches the Cajuns hitters, called for his team’s third double-squeeze of the year from the third-base box.
“He (Talbot) has the freedom to put it on whenever he wants,” Robichaux said. “That comes from JT and not from me.”
The Cajuns have used the double-squeeze before in some key situations, the most notable coming in the College World Series in 2000. But Robichaux gave now-SHSU coach Matt Deggs credit for installing it as a viable option, and UL-Lafayette used it in a key situation at Alabama last season.
“When Deggs was here, he put it in for us,” Robichaux said. “Because we run it, we know how to defend it.”
It helped that Mills, admittedly not a good bunter when he arrived in Lafayette in 2015 from Hinds (Miss.) Junior College, has worked extensively on the short game this season.
“Early in the season I struggled,” Mills said. “Shug (student coach and former Cajun Tyler Girouard) told me every day at batting practice I had to bunt a bucket of balls. I really worked on it a lot.”