MONROE — Freshman starter Gunner Leger did his thing again, lasting into the eighth inning for his third consecutive start.
And for the first time in those three starts, his teammates had his back.
The Cajuns (31-21, 16-11) pounded out 10 runs on 12 hits and Leger limited UL-Monroe (25-27, 12-16) and struck out a career-high nine batters over 7.1 strong innings in a 10-3 win at Warhawk Field.
“He’s a pitcher,” said coach Tony Robichaux on Leger. “He’s the epitome of a pitcher.”
The performance followed the same script as Leger’s recent starts. Throw strikes — a lot of them — and make the opposing team beat you with their bats, not their eyes.
For the fourth consecutive outing, Leger did not walk a batter. The last time he issued a free pass was to the first batter he faced in the Texas State series on April 18, and he’s now thrown 35 consecutive walk-less innings.
“Coach always talks about attacking the zone, and for me not having anything overpowering, I’ve got to have them in swing mode,” Leger said. “I throw more strikes and they swing more, and I can kind of expand off that.”
But only one of those previous three starts led to a Cajuns win, as Leger was outdueled by the other team’s ace against Appalachian State and South Alabama. That wouldn’t be the case against ULM.
“I think the reason he’s getting runs now is because of the way he handled it when he didn’t get runs,” Robichaux said. “Instead of throwing his glove and jumping on the hitters, he stayed backing the hitters.
“After a while, hitters start to respect the guys that have their back, and all of a sudden they’ll start hitting and scoring runs for guys like that.”
The Cajuns got things going early on offense by taking advantage of ULM starter Alex Hermeling’s control problems.
Kyle Clement banged an elevated pitch off the wall in right field for a two-out double to start things off in the first. Hermeling followed that up by drilling Stefan Trosclair on a two-strike pitch, then he uncorked a wild pitch to put both runners in scoring position.
Tyler Girouard then worked a full count before dropping a soft liner into shallow left field for a two-run single.
In the next inning, Hermeling fell behind Dylan Butler 3-0 and Butler went hunting for his pitch. He found it and tattooed it, hitting a screamer well over the left field fence for a solo home run.
“He was a little wild early and we were hitting mistakes,” Robichaux said.
Hermeling would find his control after that point, but it was too late with his Cajuns counterpart operating at peak proficiency.
The only real damage the Warhawks were able to inflict on Leger came in the fourth inning.
Kodie Tidwell snuck a one-out double past a diving Brenn Conrad at third base, advanced on Justin Stawychny’s bunt single and scored when the Cajuns failed to complete the back end of a 3-6-3 double play.
They scored another unearned run in the fifth after Blake Trahan’s two-out throwing error, and pushed the third run across on a wild pitch after Leger left the game.
But the Cajuns bats made sure the game wouldn’t be a tight one late. They plated a run without the benefit of a hit in the fifth inning, then tacked on a three-run seventh and a three-run ninth to blow the Warhawks out.
The Cajuns spread the wealth offensively, with eight different players picking up hits. Girouard led the way with a 3-for-5 day at the plate.
“Tonight was really nice, up and down the lineup,” Robichaux said. “We were able to hit and run one time, we were able to drop the bunt down. We got some good, hard hits through the infield, not hitting a lot of lazy fly balls.”
Greg Milhorn threw 1.2 scoreless innings to close the game out for the Cajuns, who will send freshman right-hander Evan Guillory to the mound go for their first series win in three weeks.
“We’ve got to look for that spark to get hot again,” Robichaux said. “We talked about it after (losing to) Nicholls; as much as this hurts, sew yourself up on the way home and get ready to go again.”