SAN MARCOS, Texas — As far as coach Tony Robichaux is concerned, Friday’s start against Texas State served a dual purpose for Louisiana-Lafayette freshman right-hander Nick Lee.
First and foremost, Robichaux wanted Lee on the mound because he’s proven to be the team’s top option behind Gunner Leger. Yet again, Lee showed why Robichaux has put so much faith in him with seven strong innings in Friday’s 4-2 win against the tournament host.
The other part of it looked toward the future, though.
“I’m actually glad that Nick drew (Texas State), being a true freshman, to give him a chance to handle somebody else’s crowd,” Robichaux said. “Somewhere down the line, he’s going to be in his first NCAA regional. I thought today was really good the way he handled himself.”
At first pitch, the crowd was roughly split down the middle between the fan bases. But the Texas State contingent grew in size and rancor as the game went on.
“It was good for me to pitch against a home crowd like this one when it’s playoff time like this,” Lee said.
Lee motored through it, even as things got hairy a few times.
Texas State scratched its first run across the plate in the third inning when the bottom three hitters in the order went double, sacrifice bunt, double. An error by shortstop Hunter Kasuls put runners on first and second with one out.
Lee wiggled out of it by inducing a pair of harmless fly balls.
The Bobcats had another threat again in the fifth inning. Again, the bottom of the order started the rally with a hit-by-pitch and a single from the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters to lead off the inning.
Lee allowed one of those runners to come home when Brian Mills couldn’t come up with a diving catch in shallow right field. But Mills recovered in time to throw out the runner at second base, and Lee followed by getting Mickey Scott to roll into an inning-ending double play.
His level-headedness in the high-leverage situation kept the Cajuns within striking distance in a game they went on to win in the late innings.
“I knew (Texas State starter Cory) Geisler was a good pitcher, too, so I knew he was going to keep our run production down,” Lee said. “I knew I had to stick to our system and do the best I could to keep it to one run that inning.”
Not bad for a freshman — especially one who was coming off arguably his worst outing of his collegiate career last week against UL-Monroe when he lasted just three innings.
“He thrives in these big moments,” Robichaux said. “He drew the home crowd, one of the best hitting teams in here, with his back against the wall facing Geisler, who was cutting us up.
“He pitched away from the three-run inning; he controlled their momentum; he made some big pitches to use their momentum against them in critical situations. I can’t say enough about Nick. His growth has been really good, coming off a tough week last week, being able to bounce back and get in here and do what he did today was phenomenal.
“He’s going to be good — really good — before this is over.”