HOUSTON — Way back before there was a thought that freshman right-hander Dylan Moore could set a Louisiana-Lafayette single-season saves record, coach Tony Robichaux knew he might have something special.
He saw Moore, just a few months removed from his high school graduation, carve the Ragin’ Cajuns lineup into ribbons in the fall.
“We were doing an intrasquad game under the lights, and he blew seven of us away with strikeouts,” Robichaux said.
But, as it happens with freshmen, he also saw the inconsistency of youth. A couple of days later, that dominance wasn’t so easily attainable, and the Cajuns knocked Moore around.
The thing was, Moore learned from that experience. He discovered that, in order to take control of the game, he needed to control himself first.
“He needed some time to get the approach where he was aggressive but calm,” Robichaux said. “He’s got that now, and I just trust him so much to run in there. He makes things look so easy.”
Moore made things look easy when he took the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning of the Cajuns’ Houston regional-opening win against Rice on Friday.
The team had just completed an improbable five-run rally in the top half of the inning, meaning Moore not only had to get mentally prepared to close a game in a short amount of time, but he also had to put all of the team’s emotion aside once he stepped on the rubber.
He needed 10 pitches to retire the side in order, setting a school record with his 12th save.
Moore snuffed a Rice rally before it could begin with an aggressive approach, but Robichaux likes that he doesn’t pitch with a wild-eyed fervor seen in some closers. It’s, in Robichaux’s words, controlled aggression.
Moore doesn’t go out on the mound thinking about the consequences if he’s not on his game. He keeps it simple by attacking the right parts of the strike zone and avoiding the walks that can lead to a big inning.
“We know if we keep the ball low and throw strikes, don’t walk people and put them on for free, it’s going to go well for you,” Moore said.
That strategy has resulted in a team-best 1.51 ERA this season. Opposing batters are only hitting .202 against Moore, despite the fact that he isn’t always used in a traditional closer’s role where he only pitches in the final inning.
Seven of Moore’s 12 saves have required multiple innings. Sometimes, if the Cajuns have a lead going into the seventh inning of a must-win game, Robichaux will call on his freshman closer to get the final nine outs or more.
Typically, the more a team sees a pitcher, the better it will understand how to hit the pitcher, especially late-game guys who usually ascend to that role because they have one pitch that’s so hard to overcome the first time you see it.
In Moore’s case, it’s not a singular pitch but his delivery that can deceive hitters. He has a slight hitch at the tail end of his delivery that can throw a hitter’s timing out of whack.
The scariest thing for opponents isn’t that he’s figured out how to best use that to his advantage in late-game situations, but that he’s still got a few more years to get better at it.
Moore has already proved himself, both as a quick study and as someone who doesn’t shrink behind the moment.
“We feel right now he’s our top go-to guy when the game’s on the line,” junior shortstop Blake Trahan said. “He gets on the mound with intensity, and he’s not scared at all.”