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Baseball: Fernandez delivers encore gem on hill

Dan McDonald

SAN ANTONIO – Another day, another standout pitching performance.
The University of Louisiana had only two complete games from its mound staff the entire 2005 season. The Ragin’ Cajuns have now matched that in less than 24 hours.

On Saturday, it was Hunter Moody’s three-hitter that led UL to a 7-1 win over Texas A&M. Sunday, Jason Fernandez did pretty much the same in a more pressure-packed situation, guiding the Cajuns to a 3-2 win over Iowa in their third game in the Baseball Express Classic at Nelson Woolf Stadium.

Fernandez limited the Hawkeyes to four singles, overcame some early wildness and watched his teammates rally from a 2-0 deficit with two runs in the sixth inning and a game-winner in the eighth.
“That was motivation for me,” said Fernandez (2-0), who struck out six in his second straight solid performance against Iowa (5-4). “At the beginning of the game I was feeling pressure, but after we tied it and got the lead, I just fed off the adrenaline.”

The Cajuns (8-4), now 2-1 in tournament play, wrap up the round-robin meet today at 3 p.m. against the host Texas-San Antonio squad.

Fernandez went 6 2/3 innings against Iowa one week ago in UL’s own Louisiana Invitational, scattering three hits in getting the win in what turned into a 14-9 game. Sunday’s game never threatened to turn into that kind of slugfest.

“With the wind blowing in, it became a short game today,” said Cajun coach Tony Robichaux, whose team has now won three of its last four. “There were a lot of balls hit hard, but with the wind it was going to be a low-scoring game and we had to stay away from walks.”

Fernandez only walked one, but two wild pitches and one of his three hit batsmen contributed to Iowa’s two runs. The Hawkeyes scored in the second on Brian Burmester’s single, a wild pitch and Kevin Hoef’s single through the box.

Iowa then made it 2-0 in the fifth when Hoef took a pitch off his shoulder, was sacrificed to second and wild pitched to third, and scored on Nate Price’s ground ball to second when he slid under catcher Jonathan Lucroy’s tag.

But Fernandez settled down, retiring the next eight and 14 of the last 15 batters he faced after Price’s RBI grounder, and the Cajuns evened things up with a rally in the sixth. Jameson Parker drew a leadoff walk from Iowa starter David Conroy before he was relieved by Wes Freie, and Parker stole second before Josh Landry’s RBI single. Landry then stole second and scored on Tim Santiago’s double to right field.

Landry also began the game-winning rally in the top of the eighth with a one-out single, and Jonathan Lucroy greeted standout Iowa closer Tim Gudez with a single to center. After a walk to Jefferies Tatford, Santiago lifted a fly ball to center field that plated Landry for the 3-2 lead.

Fernandez did the rest, getting two ground outs, two fly balls and two strikeouts in the final two innings.

“I was pretty wild early in the game,” Fernandez said, “but later in the game I started finding everything. Toward the end of the game, I may have started every single hitter with a curve, and Lucroy did a great job of finding what I had going and staying with it.”

“He didn’t have a feel for the breaker early,” Robichaux said, “but as the game wore on he got a feel for it and they got confused. And he had good velocity on his fast ball and that helped him dominate down the stretch.

“We’ve gotten 18 innings from our starters with two walks, and that’s huge for them to step up and put us in such good position tomorrow.”

Originally published March 13, 2006