A duel between aces turned into a battle of the bullpens, and the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team was the first to find a crack in a 6-2, 10-inning win at Georgia Southern on Friday night in Statesboro, Georgia.
The Cajuns (20-10, 9-4 Sun Belt) scored four runs in the 10th against Georgia Southern (17-13, 6-7) right-hander Landon Hughes, who had thrown 1.2 scoreless innings before getting knocked around in the 10th.
Cajuns righty Dylan Moore (3-1) earned the win after a Houdini trick he pulled in the bottom of the ninth.
Georgia Southern put the go-ahead run in scoring position after an error and a single off reliever Jevin Huval, prompting coach Tony Robichaux to bring in his stud closer. The move paid off: Moore got Evan McDonald to line into a 4-6 double play to end the threat on his first pitch.
“We were fortunate right there,” Robichaux said on the postgame radio broadcast. “We hung in until we could break it open.”
The Cajuns were ready to take control of the game in the 10th. Joe Robbins started the rally with an infield single off the end of his bat that fell in no-man’s land between first base and the pitcher, then advanced to third on a hit-and-run single by Kyle Clement.
Stefan Trosclair — who committed the ninth-inning error at first base, then turned the double play to wipe it out after a mid-inning switch to second base — brought home the go-ahead run with a safety squeeze to score Robbins.
Then the floodgates opened. Brad Antchak drilled his second double of the day to score Clement, and Alex Pinero — who took over at first base for Trosclair — piled on with a two-run single through the left side.
That offensive surge matched the entire run production for both teams in the first nine innings, which were dominated by superb pitching — especially from ace southpaws Gunner Leger and Evan Challenger, both of whom entered the game with ERAs under 3.00.
“We told all our starters, ‘We’re going to have to match their starters and try to beat their bullpen,’ ” Robichaux said.
The Cajuns used some clutch hitting to strike early against Challenger.
Ishmael Edwards and Robbins struck out to start the inning — the first of Challenger’s seven strikeouts — but Clement stroked a two-out single to keep the inning alive. Two batters later, Antchak ripped the first pitch he saw into left field for a double, scoring Clement to give the Cajuns an early lead.
Both pitchers went into cruise control for a while after that.
Leger set the Eagles down in order in each of the first three innings and did not give up a hit until the fourth.
In the three innings after the one-run first, the only runners Challenger allowed were a pair of walks, one of whom he erased with a pick-off.
Both teams broke through in the fifth, though. The Cajuns got a leadoff single from senior catcher Nick Thurman in the top half and, after a sacrifice bunt moved him to second base, he wheeled around to score on Edwards’ single up the middle and give the Cajuns a 2-0 lead.
The way Leger was going, it looked like two runs might be enough, but he hurt his own cause in the fifth.
Logan Baldwin started things by driving a leadoff double into the right-field corner, then Leger filled up first base by plunking Kent Rollins with a 1-2 pitch.
A sacrifice bunt and a ground ball to the right side brought the first run home and, with a runner on third, Leger fired his first wild pitch of the year to score Rollins and tie the score.
Leger finished with seven strong innings, the only real blemish on his pitching line being four hit batters. Challenger matched him with six strong innings, but he needed 94 pitches.
“The hitters did a good job of running his pitch count up,” Robichaux said. “We got him high early, and that was the difference in the game.”
The Cajuns will start right-hander Wyatt Marks to go for the series win at 6 p.m. Saturday.