The Cajuns pitched, the Cajuns played defense, the Cajuns even got a little timely hitting in the Baton Rouge super regional: coach Tony Robichaux’s three core tenets of a winning baseball team.
But the Cajuns won’t be going to Omaha, as they were just barely outpitched, slightly out-defensed and out-timely hit in a brilliantly played two-game super regional at Alex Box Stadium.
A night after losing on a walk-off blast, which was only made a necessity because of a game-tying pinch-hit shot by Brenn Conrad in the top of the ninth, the Cajuns lost their grip on a pitchers duel in the eighth inning, allowing LSU some breathing room for the first time in 17 innings of thrilling baseball.
A night after fellow freshman Wyatt Marks dueled pitch-for-pitch with the country’s freshman of the year in LSU’s Alex Lange, Gunner Leger outdid both of them.
Leger cruised early, needing just 67 pitches to get through the first six innings.
He faced only two more than the minimum through six, and he retired the side in order in three innings.
At one point, Leger needed just 14 pitches to retire seven consecutive batters.
He wasn’t doing it alone, either.
Center fielder Kyle Clement made back-to-back web gems to start the fourth inning, leaving his feet on both plays to record the outs.
Jake Fraley, who crushed the Cajuns with three RBIs the night before, sliced a sinking liner into the left-center field gap to start the fourth, but Clement raced it down and fell forward as he extended to snag it for an out.
Clement’s next victim was Alex Bregman, and this one might have been even more impressive, as he laid out while running full speed to take away extra bases.
“I wanted to get us to the next day just to enjoy another day with (the team),” Clement said. “I think that’s what really let me get to those balls in the gap, was just knowing I was going to do everything I could in this game to get us to tomorrow.”
But even as Leger and Clement were doing their impressive thing, the Tigers were matching them.
The Tigers had their own southpaw dealing strikes Sunday night, and Jared Poché spent 7.2 innings carving up the Cajuns lineup, limiting them to one run on five hits.
The Cajuns did put pressure on him on multiple occasions, putting a runner at second base in the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. But Poché continually found the pitch to get out of trouble, and his defense was routinely there to have his back.
The Tigers turned a pair of rally-killing double plays, one in the fourth inning and one in the sixth.
The Cajuns were the first to blink. Kade Scivicque finally broke the scoreless tie in the top of the seventh with a mammoth home run to left field that gave LSU a 1-0 lead.
“Just missed my spot, center cut fastball,” Leger said. “Against a team this good, a lineup this good, you can’t do that.”
Then the Tigers broke it open in the eighth, when a walk and an infield single put two on for Bregman, who was 0-for-15 in the NCAA tournament to that point. With two outs, the All-America shortstop picked a good time to break his slump.
Bregman brought in a pair of runs with his chopper single up the middle.
Two more came across on another two-out hit, this one from Conner Hale, who dropped a perfectly placed triple deep down the right-field line.
On this night, the Cajuns didn’t have the timely hitting to match the Tigers. Though they matched LSU in the hit column, they couldn’t string enough of them together to create any real damage.
“We thought we’d have some chances, and we had some chances,” Robichaux said. “We just couldn’t get a timely hit off Poché.”
The margin was thin, but somewhere in that margin lies the difference between a College World Series team and a team starting its summer vacation.
“We let one inning get away from us in two days,” Robichaux said. “That’s pretty good when you talk about coming in here against such a quality opponent.”