LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette freshman pitcher Gunner Leger aced his last test of final exams week.
The only problem was that South Alabama had an ace of its own, and he finished with a better score in the Jaguars’ 5-0 win Friday night at Moore Field.
“That dude did his job on the other side,” Leger said.
Behind a complete game from stud right-hander Kevin Hill, the Jaguars (33-17, 18-7 Sun Belt) became the first team to shut out the Cajuns (30-18, 14-10) this season.
Coming into Friday night’s game, Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux said his team was going to have to make the most of what were sure to be limited opportunities against Hill.
The Cajuns opportunities definitely were limited, as they only brought three runners into scoring position all night, but they couldn’t cash in on them when they came around.
Their best shot came in the third inning, when a single by Blake Trahan and a pair of walks loaded the bases for senior first baseman Greg Davis with two outs. Davis barreled a Hill offering, but it died at the warning track, leaving the bases full.
“We would’ve had to cut him early, and give him credit: He never let us cut him,” Robichaux said. “We had some good at-bats, we hit the ball hard, but we had nothing to show for it.”
Hill went into cruise control from that point. He allowed just two runners over his final six innings, and neither got past first base. Whatever balls the Cajuns hit hard, Jaguars defenders found a way to track them down.
Though the Cajuns worked his pitch count early in the game, Hill was more efficient in the later innings and was able to complete the game by throwing 123 pitches. Hill finished with eight strikeouts and has now thrown three consecutive complete games, two of which were shutouts.
Leger was nearly able to match him, if it wasn’t for the second inning.
South Alabama left fielder Adam Ballew lifted the first pitch he saw in the second into shallow left field for a leadoff single, then was chased home on second baseman Matt Bolger’s double to the left-field corner.
It appeared that Cajuns left fielder Evan Powell was not expecting Bolger to hit the ball there, and he had a long run to track the ball down, allowing Ballew to score easily. The Jaguars made it 2-0 when Bolger wheeled around to score on Garrett DeGallier’s two-out single that squeaked under a diving Stefan Trosclair.
That was what the Jaguars did for most of the night against Leger: They were never able to really square up a ball and instead tried to work Leger deep into the count, then make something happen by putting the ball in play.
“That’s what they do,” Leger said. “They just put the bat on the ball, hit and run, bunt — they’re playing for one run almost every inning. I knew I couldn’t walk anybody.”
So that’s what Leger did. He kept the ball in the zone, didn’t walk anybody and lived with the small cuts the Jaguars kept inflicting with bloop singles and infield hits.
It resulted in one of his better outings of the season. He exited after the eighth having allowed just the pair of second-inning runs, throwing a career-high 109 pitches.
“I don’t care about your win/loss record,” Robichaux said. “What I care about is giving us a chance to win, and that’s all he did.”
When the Jaguars were finally relieved from having to face Leger in the ninth, they struck for three insurance runs on an inning that started with a pair of free passes.
The Cajuns aren’t yet mathematically eliminated from Sun Belt title contention, but they need a lot to bounce their way. Just to pass the Jaguars — not even considering the other teams ahead of them — the Cajuns would need to win the rest of their conference games, while the Jaguars would need to lose four of their last five.