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Baseball: ‘X-Man’ comes up big

Alexander rips game-winning double in 9th

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – It’s not like Xavier Alexander hadn’t been in clutch situations before. After all, the Westgate High product had a 21-game hitting streak to start his season and had a ninth-inning game-tying homer in an earlier game.

But not a lot expected a bottom-of-the-ninth liner off the Olsen Field wall, one that gave UL’s baseball team its first regional-opening win since the 2000 College World Series season.

Alexander’s clutch hit scored Devon Bourque from first base, snapping a 4-4 tie and giving the Cajuns a pulsating 5-4 win over Ohio State in the opening game of the NCAA Baseball Championships’ College Station Regional Friday.

Alexander’s hit boosted UL (44-15) into today’s 7 p.m. winner’s bracket finale, where the Cajuns will face host Texas A&M. The Aggies took a 7-2 win over LeMoyne in Friday’s late game.

Alexander, who spent two years at Paris Junior College before joining the UL squad this year, came into the game in the eighth inning to pinch-hit for William Long. He singled to lead off that frame, but like seven other Cajuns through the first eight innings he was left stranded in scoring position.

"Our biggest problem all day was not getting timely hits," said Cajun coach Tony Robichaux. "But ‘X’ got us a big hit when we needed it."

UL, normally an aggressive offensive team with the most extra-base hits and the most homers of any team in this regional, took 23 fast-balls for strikes. Most of them came from 6-foot-7 Ohio State righthander Jake Hale, who had only one bad inning before being relieved in the eighth.

"It wasn’t that we were getting frustrated," Alexander said. "We were trying to keep it under control and sort of let the game play itself.Coach told us we were taking too many pitches."

That didn’t happen in the ninth inning when the Cajuns finally got a damaging two-out hit. Nolan Gisclair had singled off Buckeye reliever Rory Meister (4-7) with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but was thrown out attempting to steal. That appeared to be a big out when Bourque followed with a sharp single to right.

Alexander took Meister’s first offering the opposite way, one-hopping a fast ball off the wall between OSU outfielders Jacob Howell and J. B. Shuck. Bourque, off on contact with two outs, never hesitated rounding third and slid across well ahead of Shuck’s throw and shortstop Cory Rupert’s relay.

"At times we didn’t make the pitches we wanted," said OSU coach Bob Todd. "That’s a good hitting team, and in the ninth we were trying to pitch them away."

Cajun senior pitcher Matt Pilgreen didn’t miss with many pitches, coming up with five clutch innings in relief of starter Danny Farquhar. Pilgreen (7-0) entered the game in the fifth inning with the bases loaded and none out thanks to Cory Kovanda’s leadoff double, a bunt single from Jacob Howell and a walk to Matt Angle.

"Coach told me the same thing we would’ve told anyone else in that situation," Pilgreen said. "Minimize the damage, trade a run for an out and get us back to the dugout."

That Pilgreen did, with Kovanda scoring on Eric Fryer’s ground ball before Pilgreen induced a popup and another ground ball to end the inning. After that, the Big 10 Tournament champion Buckeyes (37-23) got only one runner to third base, and Pilgreen faced one over the minimum number over the final three innings.

"He just kept it down and threw strikes," said Cajun catcher Jonathan Lucroy of Pilgreen. "He did his job and did it very well. The inning he came in and gave up just one run, I knew then he was on top of his game."

UL had taken a 1-0 first-inning lead off Hale, who started in place of OSU ace and Big 10 Pitcher of the Year Cory Luebke. Josh Logan’s single, a sacrifice, a wild pitch and Lucroy’s RBI grounder provided the early lead, but OSU rallied with three runs off Farquhar in the third including a two-run double by Matt Angle.

"Danny wasn’t as sharp as normal," Robichaux said. "You could tell he was struggling a little, but Matt came in and did a great job."

OSU’s only other run came in that fifth inning, right after the Cajuns had rallied for a 4-3 lead. Scott Hawkins drew a nine-pitch walk from Hale and Gisclair followed by bouncing a 1-2 pitch off the top of and over the center-field wall for a 3-3 tie. Bourque came right back with a single and eventually scored the go-ahead run on Logan’s single to right.

"They are a really aggressive hitting team," said Hale, who stranded two runners in scoring position in the second, third and fourth innings. "They will go after some early pitches, but they also do a good job of hitting late in the count."

UL also left the bases loaded in the eighth and stranded 14 in the game, and it appeared that another opportunity might be squandered in the ninth before Alexander’s game-winner.

"It wasn’t a lot of pressure," said Alexander, whose ninth-inning homer against Arkansas State helped UL take an earlier Sun Belt Conference win. "They’d been throwing a lot of sliders early, and I just got a fast ball at the right time."

Photos by Brad Kemp/bkemp@theadvertiser.com

UL’s Xavier Alexander, center, is mobbed by teammates after delivering a game-winning double in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes Friday.

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Photos by Brad Kemp/bkemp@theadvertiser.com

UL’s Devon Bourque(8) slides across the plate with the winning run while teammate Josh Logan celebrates.