LAFAYETTE — Freshman starter Gunner Leger pounded the strike zone for seven strong innings, and the scorching Kyle Clement gave him an early cushion in Louisiana-Lafayette’s 5-0 series-opening win against UT-Arlington.
“We pitched, we played defense and we got timely hitting,” coach Tony Robichaux said. “It’s hard to lose when you do all three.”
It was the second shutout of the season for the Cajuns (26-16, 11-7), who have now won 11 of their last 13 games. The Mavericks (17-23, 8-11) have now lost 14 of their last 20.
Leger (5-2) was throwing darts from the onset. The book on the Mavericks was that they were an aggressive team, especially in the first few pitches of an at bat.
“They look for the fastball early in the count,” Leger said. “We knew if we just came in and spotted up the fastball and mixed speeds, we’d be able to get them out.”
Leger fired first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 26 batters he faced, and he lured the Mavericks into swinging at pitches they wouldn’t cause much damage with.
The results were impressive. Leger retired the side in order in five of his first six innings of work, and he only allowed one base runner past second base in the outing.
Robichaux pulled Leger after he finished the seventh inning with 99 pitches, 69 of which came in for strikes.
“That’s the name of the game, to throw strikes,” Robichaux said. “The type of pitcher he is, he’s got to be a strike thrower. He’s not throwing 94 to 95 miles an hour. His pitchability’s always been through the roof.”
The Cajuns’ offense made it a little easier for Leger to focus on throwing strikes by pushing four runs across the plate in the first three innings. Three of those runs were driven in by Clement, who continued his torrid play at the plate in recent weeks.
After Blake Trahan led off the bottom of the first inning with a bloop single, Clement pounded an opposite field double into the left field corner. Trahan wheeled around to score from first.
In that at bat, Mavericks pitcher Chad Nack (3-4) came inside several times before leaving a pitch out over the plate that Clement could barrel up. Clement armed himself with that knowledge the next time he came to the plate.
With Trahan again at first base, Nack tried coming back inside to Clement in the third inning. Clement made him pay for it by wrapping his fifth home run of the year around the right field foul pole, giving the Cajuns a 4-0 lead.
“When I’m feeling good I usually work the whole field,” Clement said. “He tried to bust me (inside) the first at bat and then went away, so I had a feeling he was going to come back in the next at bat. … I was just guessing pitches.”
Guessing pitches or not, Clement is on some kind of streak right now. After going homerless for his first 46 career games, he’s got five long balls in his last nine games.
This week, Clement is hitting .583 with three doubles, a pair of home runs and six RBI with a 1.333 slugging percentage.
“There’s an old saying: If you’ve got a broom handle in your hand and you think you can hit, you can hit,” Robichaux said. “Right now, he’s running high on confidence.”
Nick Thurman added an RBI single in the fifth inning, scoring Stefan Trosclair, who extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
Junior Will Bacon finished what Leger started with two solid innings of relief to finish the shutout.
The Cajuns will go for the series win Saturday at 6 p.m. Freshman right-hander Evan Guillory (3-0, 4.22) will get the start for the Cajuns.