Baseball: Butterflies behind, Leger goes five in UL loss to Texas
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Feb. 15, 2019
UL senior Gunner Leger struck out four in five shutout innings as Texas beat the Ragin' Cajuns 3-1 Friday night at Russo Park. (Photo11: SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network)
It did not end how Gunner Leger and the Ragin’ Cajuns wanted.
But in his first game back after missing all last season following elbow and leg surgeries, a 3-1 loss in 10 innings to No. 16 Texas that opened the UL baseball team’s 2019 season and Tony Robichaux’s 25th year as coach of the Cajuns, Leger seemed sound.
“He’s just a master at managing a baseball game,” Robichaux said. “It’s just unbelievable.
“I mean, he gives you a chance to win every night out. He might not win every night, but he gives you a chance.”
Friday night on M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field was no exception.
When Leger exited after five innings, UL and Texas were tied 0-0.
His final line: two hits allowed, two walks and four strikeouts.
Leger threw 77 pitches and struck out 4, an impressive ratio under any circumstance — and especially so with 630 days between starts.
“I was better than I thought I was gonna be,” the fifth-year senior and 2017 Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year said. “I definitely didn’t have my best stuff, but made it work.”
Leger’s first pitch back was a ball, and he allowed Duke Ellis a leadoff single.
But the lefty retired the next three in a row, inducing two groundouts and a strikeout of Zach Zubia while looking much like his usual self.
Leger ended both the first and fourth with strikeouts, and fanned four through four, and he retired the side in order in the third and fifth.
Not surprisingly, though, the perfectionist was far from satisfied after relying on guts perhaps as much as anything.
“I was able to get some lucky breaks with (a) line drive double play and some stuff like that,” he said. “But all in all, it wasn’t bad. Just glad to be back out there.”
Leger admitted to some pregame jitters in his first outing after undergoing partial Tommy John surgery in July 2018 and surgery to remove a calcified cyst from his left femur in October 2018.
“I woke up with the butterflies,” he said. “Had them all day. Just excited. Felt like a little kid again, so it was good.”
UL tied it 1-1 when Handsome Monica hit into a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded, scoring Brennan Breaux, who had led off the bottom of the ninth with a single.
But the Cajuns left the bases loaded as Hunter Kasuls lined out to right.
Austin Todd then drove in two with a shot to left-center off of new Cajun closer Austin Bradford before being thrown out at third in the top of the 10th.
UL left-fielder Gavin Bourgeois dove for the catch, but could not come up with it.
Texas’ Mason Bryant then ended it by striking out Daniel Lahare, stranding O’Neal Lochridge at second.
Longhorns starter Bryce Elder went 8.0 innings in a brilliant outing, striking out nine and walking just four.
Michael McCann’s two-out ground-rule double in the seventh, over the head of Orynn Veillon in right, put Texas up 1-0 in the top of the seventh, and UL went down in order in the bottom of the inning.
UL’s defense turned double plays in both the second and third for Leger, and another in the eighth for Austin Perrin, who relieved Leger and was responsible for the three runs in his 4.1 innings.
Elder struck out the side in order in the fourth, as Bourgeois, Hayden Cantrelle and Monica all went down swinging.
Kasuls reached on a squibber and stole second, the first Cajun to reach second, in the fifth, but he was stranded.
Monica threw out his first runner of the season, Todd, and UL went to the bottom of the sixth still tied 0-0.
The Cajuns went down with three grounders to the pitcher in the half-inning.
Breaux and Kasuls each had two of UL’s six hits; Todd for 3-for-4 with RBI and a walk for Texas. … University of New Orleans graduate transfer Veillon got the start over juco-transfer Jordan Wiley in right field for UL, and Lochridge started at third base over last season’s starter, Jonathan Windham. … All other Cajun starters were expected, including Lahare (hand injury) at first. … Attendance was announced at 5,591.
UL and Texas meeting at 2 p.m. Saturday in the middle outing of the three-game weekend series.