LAFAYETTE — It was only fitting that a game dominated by superb pitching would be decided on a wild pitch that went right down the middle of the plate.
With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the 10th inning of Friday’s season opener at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field, Sam Houston State catcher Robie Rojas set up on the far outside corner of the plate, and pitcher Miles Manning threw it down the center. Rojas couldn’t handle the pitch, allowing Louisiana-Lafayette’s Derek Herrington to race home as the winning run in a 2-1 victory.
“As soon as I saw it go past the catcher, I knew I was scoring,” Herrington said. “I took a chance, and I got it.”
It was a wild finish to a game that didn’t have many ups and downs. Ragin’ Cajuns starter Gunner Leger and Sam Houston counterpart Sam Odom turned in dueling masterpieces.
Leger cruised through the first four innings, needing only 33 pitches to retire the first 12 batters in order. He commanded his pitches in the strike zone to take advantage of an aggressive Bearkats lineup and didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning.
“That’s why he goes out on Friday night,” coach Tony Robichaux said.
Robichaux pulled Leger after six innings and 68 pitches; Leger allowed only two base runners.
Leger was never in line to factor in the decision, however; Odom was even better as he mowed down the Cajuns’ potent lineup.
Using a three-pitch mix, he carried a perfect game into the seventh inning, and the Cajuns couldn’t muster as much as a loud out against him the first three times through the lineup.
“We never could push him,” Robichaux said. “He did everything a Friday night guy should do.”
Sam Houston State broke through once Leger was removed from the game. Right-hander Will Bacon entered in relief in the top of the seventh, and the first two batters recorded base hits against him, the second of which was a booming double off the base of the right-field wall.
With runners at second and third, the Bearkats brought home the go-ahead run on a fielder’s choice to shortstop.
The way Odom was throwing, it looked like one run would be enough. But then Brenn Conrad came to the plate with one out in the bottom of the seventh and broke up Odom’s perfect game with a home run to right field.
“Everybody wants that at-bat whenever it comes,” Conrad said. “Sure enough, I got it. I tried to do my best, and I capitalized.”
Both teams missed on golden opportunities in the final innings.
Zach Smith hit a pinch-hit double that just missed clearing the right-field fence off Bacon to lead off the Sam Houston State eighth, then moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. Robichaux decided to call on sophomore closer Dylan Moore (1-0). Moore deftly escaped the jam by getting leadoff hitter Taylor Beene to foul off a two-strike squeeze bunt, then inducing an inning-ending fly ball.
“That dude, he’s a magician,” Leger said. “He finds his way out of situations like nobody I’ve ever seen. He’s a bulldog, and that’s the reason he’s the closer.”
Cajuns catcher Nick Thurman led off the ninth with a walk to chase Odom. After a sacrifice bunt and a line out to center field, Sam Houston State intentionally walked the left-handed Conrad to bring All-American Stefan Trosclair to the plate.
The move paid off: Trosclair popped up near home plate to send the game to extra innings.
Moore worked around a leadoff walk to get out of the 10th, and the Cajuns lineup finally woke in the last half of the inning.
Kyle Clement led off with a sharp single down the right-field line, and then Herrington laid down what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt. But Manning rushed to make the play, and his throw to first rolled into right field, putting runners at second and third.
After an intentional walk loaded the bases, Clement was thrown out at home trying to score on freshman Johnny Rizer’s ground ball to second base. But Herrington scored on the ensuing play to send the crowd of 4,473 — the sixth-largest at Moore Field — home happy.
“You want to end on a good note, especially at home,” Robichaux said. “You want to take care of home, and you also want to take care of these good fans — they’re out in big, big numbers. … I’m just glad we were able to stay calm and grind.”