HOOVER, Ala. — Louisiana-Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux wanted to get a look at several of his pitchers Sunday before heading into Sun Belt Conference play.
Instead, he got an eyeful of freshman left-hander Gunner Leger.
The Barbe High School product dominated Alabama over eight strong innings in his first weekend start, and his offensive teammates turned very offensive in a 14-2 victory at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
The Cajuns (6-5) finished with a series win over the Tide (7-4) with Sunday’s victory, and Leger was the catalyst. He allowed only three hits and one run, fanning five while walking none and retiring 15 of the last 16 batters he faced in a 93-pitch effort.
“He got in the old rocking chair,” Robichaux said. “He changed speeds on a linear path, and when a freshman can pick that up, especially out of the left side against so many righties, he can be really difficult to hit. When a lefty can change speeds out of the same tunnel, that’s not an easy thing to do, and that’s what he does.”
Leger (2-0) got plenty of help from a Cajuns lineup that scored a season-high 14 runs against five Alabama pitchers, posting four-run innings in the fourth and sixth to break open a close game.
“It really helps when you score 14 runs,” Leger said. “Our defense was unbelievable, and our lineup was unbelievable.”
Greg Davis’ first-inning solo home run off Crimson Tide starter Geoffrey Bramblett (2-1) set the tone as the Cajuns collected six extra-base hits. Five players had multiple hits.
“We swung the bat really well,” said Robichaux, whose squad gave him his 1,000th career victory in Saturday’s 6-5 win. “We didn’t have any holes in the lineup. We had guys that were bunting and extending innings, we fought off a lot of pitches and 1 through 9 we just wore their pitching down.”
Alabama’s only early scoring threat came in the first inning, when Mikey White doubled to the left-center gap with two outs and Casey Hughston followed with a run-scoring triple down the right-field line that tied the score at 1.
The rest of the way, the only Tide batters to reach base against Leger were Georgie Salem on a hit batsmen in the third (Leger picked him off moments later), White reaching on an error in the fourth and Daniel Cucjen’s two-out single up the middle in the eighth.
“(Alabama) came out really aggressive,” Leger said. “I was honestly throwing too many strikes when they got that one run, but I was able to expand the zone. Me and (catcher Nick Thurman) got together and we talked, and I knew if I got the ball down and let them put it in play, our defense would work.”
“Thurm called a great game for him,” Robichaux said. “Their back and forth was really exceptional today.”
UL-Lafayette took the lead for good in the second when Derek Herrington drew a two-out walk and scored on Joe Robbins’ single. The big blow came two innings later, when the Cajuns loaded the bases on Thurman’s single and back-to-back bunts by Stefan Trosclair and Herrington. Bramblett hit Robbins with a pitch to force in a run, and Blake Trahan followed with a bases-clearing double just inside the third-base bag that made it 6-1.
Four more hits, including doubles by Thurman and Kyle Clement, keyed the four-run sixth off Tide receiver Zac Rogers, and the Cajuns added two more in the seventh and the ninth, the final two on Davis’ two-run single.
Reliever Wyatt Marks pitched the ninth inning and gave up a solo home run to White before recording the final two outs.
Leger, who started Tuesday’s 17-inning marathon loss to McNeese State and threw 69 pitches, hadn’t expected to go that many innings.
“(Robichaux) told me before the game to not be shocked by the third or fourth if he pulled me,” Leger said, “not because of me, but he wanted to get some guys in. But he let me go. ... I tried to convince him to let me finish, but he wouldn’t let me.”
The series was the final one before UL-Lafayette opens Sun Belt play against Troy at home Friday.
“It’s huge when you have a young team,” Robichaux said of the series win before league play opens. “That’s why we scheduled seven out of 11 on the road. It was important to get on the road and get weathered. Win, lose or draw today, we were going to go back a better baseball team.
“We needed to get off our heels and start throwing haymakers. ... Today, we threw some haymakers and, when you do that, you have a chance to win the fight.”