LAFAYETTE — He spent nearly five and a half hours directing his team Tuesday night, but UL-Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux is going to have to wait a little bit longer for his 1,000th career win.
McNeese State outlasted the Ragin’ Cajuns 5-4 in 17 innings Tuesday at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field, ending Robichaux’s shot at winning his 1,000th game against his former team. But the milestone was the farthest thing from Robichaux’s mind after the game.
The Cajuns (4-4) committed four errors on the day — all of which had a direct impact in four of McNeese’s five runs. The Cajuns had the go-ahead run at third base five times in the final 12 innings — and they failed to cash in on any of those opportunities.
“We had many chances to win,” Robichaux said. “Somebody’s got to get to the plate and get the job done when a guy’s 90 feet away.”
The Cowboys (5-4) seized control of the game in the top of the 17th inning, when they took advantage of a rare Blake Trahan error by finally discovering some timely hitting, of which neither team had been able to find much of in the extra frames.
With Logan Stoelke, the Cajuns’ seventh pitcher of the game, on the mound, Trahan couldn’t handle a high chopper from Connor Crane to start the inning. After a single and a deep fly ball moved Crane to third base, he scored on Connor Lloyd’s single through the left side.
The Cajuns rallied from a one-run deficit earlier in extra innings, but they couldn’t muster any magic this time around. They went down in order in the bottom of the 17th, a relatively normal ending for what was at times a bizarre game.
McNeese State, held hitless for a five-inning stretch by the Cajuns bullpen, scored a run on three hits in the top of the 10th inning off reliever Colton Lee. After the Cajuns failed to take advantage of a couple of golden opportunities, it looked like they had run out of chances.
But Tuesday’s game wouldn’t go away quietly. The Cajuns may have looked dead in the water after two quick strikeouts to start the bottom of the 10th, but then catcher Nick Thurman banged a triple off the wall to the deepest part of the park against right-handed reliever Cory LaPeze.
“I was looking for a fastball. I was hoping he would give it to me,” Thurman said. “Luckily he threw a fastball out over the plate and I was able to get a good barrel on it. I actually thought I hit it out. I saw the outfielder jump up for it, and I actually fist pumped rounding first. I heard it hit the wall, then I decided to get on my horse a little bit — whatever horse was left after catching that long.”
It was the first hit anybody this season had been able to collect off LaPeze in 11 innings. The Cajuns certainly had their own troubles against him, with five of the eight batters who faced him striking out.
And the Cajuns wouldn’t need to worry about driving in a man from third this time.
Thurman scored the tying run in the 10th inning when the third-base umpire called a balk on LaPeze, who to that point had silenced the Cajuns’ bats. Thurman crossed the plate despite the protest of McNeese staff members, who didn’t see LaPeze’s balk.
After getting a solid inning in relief from Dylan Moore in the 11th — buoyed by Nick Thurman’s bullet to second base to thwart James Cantu’s stolen base attempt — the Cajuns might have had their best shot to win it in the bottom of that frame.
With LaPeze out of the game, Kyle Clement doubled to deep right-center field on the first pitch he saw, then moved to third on Dylan Butler’s sacrifice bunt. With the top of the order coming around, the Cajuns were in good shape — until the game got weird.
With Trahan at the plate and first base open, McNeese State set up like it was going to intentionally walk Trahan, but then called a pitch out banking on the fact that Clement might break toward the plate. He did.
The Cowboys caught Clement in a rundown and threw him out, ending the Cajuns’ best chance at plating a go-ahead run. But there would be more.
After going down in order for three straight innings, the Cajuns had runners at second and third with one down in the 15th following Thurman’s bloop double into shallow left field; they followed with a strikeout and a lazy fly ball.
They picked up a pair of two-out base hits in the 16th, including Greg Davis’ second double of the game, to give them runners at second and third with two down; Evan Powell followed by popping up to second.
“It was a tough loss,” Thurman said. “We fought hard; the dice just didn’t roll our way.”
It was a disappointing effort on offense and defense, especially considering what the pitching staff did.
“Hats off to our pitching staff, man,” said Thurman, who caught all 17 innings Tuesday. “They did a heck of a job coming in and keeping it a 4-4 game. Then one ball squeaks by our third baseman. That’s how it happens sometimes.”
Seven Cajuns pitchers combined to strike out 16 batters, and the Cajuns only allowed two earned runs in what amounted to nearly two complete games.
“We pitched really good; all the freshmen really threw well,” Robichaux said. “(Starter Gunner Leger) threw well. We made too many mistakes along the way, offensively, defensively, and it cost us.”
But as far as the Cajuns are concerned, the game shouldn’t have gone to extra innings. They had the bases loaded with one out in both the sixth and the eighth; both times Kyle Clement and Dylan Butler had the first crack at knocking in the go-ahead run, and both times they came up empty.
The Cajuns loaded them up in the sixth on a walk and two hit batters, but Clement struck out and Butler was robbed on a nice play down the third base line by McNeese third baseman Matt Gallier.
Tyler Girouard led the eighth inning off with an opposite-field double, and the Cajuns loaded the bases when Nick Thurman was intentionally walked and Stefan Trosclair was hit by a pitch.
McNeese coach Justin Hill summoned LaPeze, who entered the game having not allowed a hit in 8.2 innings this season, and LaPeze struck out both Clement and Butler on sharp breaking balls.
The Cajuns suffered some defensive miscues that allowed McNeese to tack on some runs early. Leger, making his second start of the season, made his lone mistake of the evening when Cowboys designated hitter Billy Sommers crushed a one-out triple on the first pitch he saw.
It looked like Leger would make it out of the inning unscathed when he struck out cleanup hitter Lewis Guilbeau for what would’ve been the third out, but Thurman dropped the third strike, then made an errant throw to first base, allowing Sommers to score.
The Cajuns took the lead in the third inning on Greg Davis’ booming double off the left-field wall, but the Cowboys would find their way back in it thanks to some more careless defense by the Cajuns.
Leger started the fourth inning by jumping ahead of Guilbeau 1-2, but Guilbeau kept fouling off pitch after pitch and eventually drew a 10-pitch walk. The Cowboys then loaded the bases with nobody out after a Brenn Conrad error and a bunt single that Leger and third baseman Tyler Girouard let fall between them.
After a Leger strikeout, third baseman Matt Gallier ripped a single into left field, scoring Guilbeau. Cajuns left fielder Dylan Butler was charging the ball hard, and he bobbled it once he got to it, allowing the go-ahead run to score to give McNeese a 3-2 advantage.