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Baseball: The grinders – UL opens 2016 with a 10th-inning win

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, February 19, 2016



Brenn Conrad at the plate as the Cajuns open the Baseball season at Tigue Moore Field taking on Sam Houston State on Friday.(Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE, THE ADVERTISER)


 PHOTO GALLERY: Cajuns Home Opener Game


In front of the sixth-largest home crowd in program history, the No. 6-ranked UL baseball team won its 2016 season-opener in the fashion it’s won so many games over the last three years.

The Cajuns celebrate a home run by Brenn Conrad (13)

The Cajuns celebrate a home run by Brenn Conrad (13) in Friday night’s season-opener win over Sam Houston State at The Tigue. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE, THE ADVERTISER)

The Ragin’ Cajuns grinded another one out.

UL beat Sam Houston State 2-1 in front of 4,473 on Friday night at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field, doing so when Derek Herrington scored on a bases-loaded wild pitch with one out in the bottom of the 10th inning.

The Cajuns broke up Sam Odom’s perfect game with Brenn Conrad’s solo home run in the seventh, then rode the pitching of closer Dylan Moore in 2.2 innings of relief work to give its offense one more chance.

“(Odom) stayed out of their bullpen. He did everything a Friday-night pitcher should do,” UL coach Tony Robichaux said. “We just got a critical play at the critical time out of the game.”

And it set the Cajuns – who are coming off three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including back-to-back Super Regionals – off in the right direction as they head into what they hope will be a very, very long season.

“We’re all looking for the same goal here,” Conrad said. “We’re trying to get to Omaha (for the College World Series). We’re trying not to only get there, but to compete and win.

“Everybody knows we just have to stay focused. Not to mention all fall, we’ve grinded and grinded. It was tough, so we keep that in the back our minds when it comes down to stuff like that.”

Stuff, that is, like the 10th.

Kyle Clement led off the bottom of the first extra frame with a single to right, then moved to third on Herrington’s bunt and an error.

UL loaded the bases when SHSU intentionally walked Dylan Poncho, and after Clement was thrown out at home on Johnny Rizer’s fielder’s choice Nick Thurman came to the plate.

Bearkats reliever Miles Manning missed the signal for a called pitchout, and with Thurman swinging on the wild pitch Herrington raced home from third and beat Manning to the plate.

“I was anticipating dirt ball and I got it, so I took it,” Herrington said. “As soon as I saw it get past the catcher I knew I was scoring, so I just took a chance and I got it.”

Sophomore starter Gunner Leger, the 2015 Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year, pitched six shutout innings and retired the first 13 hitters he faced.

Gunner Leger was UL's 2016 Opening Night starter in

Gunner Leger was UL’s 2016 Opening Night starter in Friday’s win over SHSU. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE, THE ADVERTISER)

Leger, who was on a pitch count, threw 68, 48 of which went for strikes, and allowed just two runners, one who reached when he was hit by a pitch and another, Lance Miles, who singled to break up his no-hitter.

Leger was relieved for the start of the seventh by Will Bacon, who promptly gave up a single by Bryce Johnson, a double from Andrew Fregia and an RBI fielder’s choice to Matt Broadbent that put SHSU up 1-0.

Conrad finally cracked Odom with a solo shot to right-center off a changeup with one in the bottom of the seventh, tying the game despite the Bearkat starter showing a three-pitch mix, strong velocity and solid command.

“During (batting practice) and early workout I was seeing the ball really well – pretty much like I never have,” Conrad said. “It looked like a beach ball to me, and I brought that into the game.”

It was the second career homer for Conrad, a junior from Lafayette High who hit his first in the ninth inning of Game 1 of UL’s 2015 Baton Rouge NCAA Super Regional loss to LSU.

“My adrenaline was pumping so hard,” Conrad said, explaining why he practically sprinted around the bases. “It was kind of like the LSU home run. That’s what it felt like.”

Odom made it to the ninth, but Thurman walked and he exited to an ovation with 82 pitches throw, 55 of them for strikes.

“It was crazy,” Leger said of Odom’s performance. “They came out aggressive, we came out aggressive. I’m glad we picked up the W.”

Thurman moved to second on Joe Robbins’ sac bunt, and after Hunter Kasuls lined out to centerfield Conrad was intentionally walked – bringing up All-American Stefan Trosclair, who played second last season but opened 2016 at first.

Trosclair, however, popped up.

SHSU stranded a man at second in the top of the 10th, as Moore used a strikeout to send UL to the bottom of the inning still tied and ultimately helped the Cajuns win the first outing of three-game series that continues Saturday afternoon.

“We knew it was gonna be a difficult series,” Moore said. “They’re grinders too out there. We’re just gonna grind everything out, so it’s gonna be a great series.”

Steven Sensley returns to the dugout after his base

Steven Sensley returns to the dugout after his base hit as a Cajun in UL’s 2-1 season-opening win over Sam Houston State on Friday night. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE, THE ADVERTISER)

  UL (1-0) vs. SAM HOUSTON STATE (0-1)

   WHAT: Second game of three-game non-conference series

   WHERE: M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field (3,755)

   WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday

   RADIO: KPEL 96.5 FM with Scott Prather

   TV: None

   STARTERS: UL RHP Wyatt Marks (0-0) vs. LHP Hayden Nixon (0-0)