HOUSTON — Cajuns freshman shortstop Hunter Kasuls had a chance to get his team out of the fifth inning unscathed when he ranged to his left to corral a ground ball.
Then the ball caromed off his glove and into center field, paving the way for No. 17 TCU to put together a two-out, four-run rally that the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team wasn’t able to recover from in a 7-1 loss Friday at Minute Maid Park.
“We needed to make the critical play at the critical time of the game, and we didn’t do it,” Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said.
The next Horned Frogs (4-1) batter after Kasuls’ error, cleanup man Luken Baker, yanked a double down the left-field line that scored chased Cajuns starter Gunner Leger (0-1) .
The results stayed consistent after Leger came out, though. Against Cajuns right-hander Eric Carter, Josh Watson put an inside-out swing on the pitch Carter wanted to throw — a fastball inside — and sent it into the left-field corner to score two more and make it a 5-1 game.
“(Kasuls) makes that play, and we’re off the field and in a close ballgame,” Robichaux said. “You’ve got to make the big play when it’s time to make it. This is not junior college or high school any more. You’ve got to be able to slow down a little bit and make the critical play at a critical time.”
For the second straight game, the Cajuns’ bats weren’t up to the task of coming to the rescue.
After striking out 13 times in a midweek loss to Louisiana Tech, the Cajuns (3-2) struck out 10 times Saturday while picking up just four hits, the last of which came with two outs in the fourth inning.
Over the final five innings, the Cajuns went 0-for-15 at the plate with two walks and five strikeouts.
“Right now, other people are grabbing our jugular,” Robichaux said. “We’ve got to go grab somebody else’s jugular. You can’t sit on your heels off this kind of pitching; you have to go get it.”
The Cajuns had chances but rarely cashed them in against TCU righty Brian Howard, who struck out seven in 6.2 innings. They had runners at first and third with nobody out in the second inning and proceeded to ground out to the pitcher, strike out and ground out to second to strand a pair of runners in scoring position.
They had runners at first and third again with one out in the next inning, when they posted three straight base hits to score their lone run. But Kyle Clement rolled into an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play to limit the damage.
“(TCU has) a great pitching staff; that’s how they do it,” Robichaux said. “They work to keep the score down on you.”
Leger turned in a solid effort, even if at 4.2 innings it was his shortest outing since an April 11 game against Jackson State last season. He had TCU’s hitters to thank for that. The normally efficient Leger, who needed 68 pitches to throw six innings in his last start, threw 87 pitches in 4.2 innings Friday.
“They had a good feel for the zone,” Leger said. “I really struggled with a feel for everything. Usually I can put it where I want it when I have it, and I couldn’t do that tonight. I just tried to make pitches.”
The Cajuns will play the early game at Minute Maid Park on Saturday against Texas Tech at noon. Robichaux is hopeful he sees a more confident team Saturday than the one he has seen in two straight losses.
“The mistakes that we’ve made have been sitting-on-our-heels type of timid mistakes,” he said. “You’ve got to come get the ball. You’ve got to catch it with arrogance. You’ve got to throw with arrogance. You’ve got to get off the field when you’re supposed to get off the field.
“That’s what we’ve got to learn how to do. Right now, we haven’t done it.”