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Jay’s Memorable Moment #12 – 14 Pitches

Louisiana 3, Tulane 2

M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field, Lafayette, LA

April 5, 2000

When I started putting together the most memorable moments in my 20 years covering Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns, it stood to reason that most of the moments that aren’t football-related are postseason moments.   When you play thirty-plus basketball and sixty or more baseball and softball games, a regular season game would have to be awfully special.

This was special.

It wasn’t special because it gave the Cajuns 29 wins in 31 games.  It wasn’t special because it was an in-state rival.

It was special because, without it, what happened at the end of the season might have been just a dream.

In 2000, Louisiana opened the season with five straight wins before falling on Sunday, February 13th.  They wouldn’t lose again until March 25 when they fell to UNO 4-3, when a would-be lead changing homer by Jess Poche was blown back into the park by a stiff wind off the Lakefront.

The Cajuns then played a mid-week game at Tulane and, behind a four hitter by freshman left-hander Andy Gros, the Cajuns pounded the Greenies, 12-1.  That was part of a six game winning streak that ran the Cajuns’ record to 28-2 and a #4 national ranking.

Just a week later, the Wave returned the visit and a season-high crowd of 3,027 crowded into M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field to see if the Cajuns’ magic would continue.

Lefty Nick Webb got the start for the Cajuns and Tulane countered with right hander Henry Bonilla.

Tulane struck in the second inning when, with one out,  Jake Gautreau singled.  Steve Shirley followed with an RBI double to the right-center gap and went to third on a passed ball.  Shirley scored on a ground out by right fielder James Burgess and the Green Wave had a 2-0 lead.

That would be all they would get off Webb, who allowed just two hits in the next five innings.  But Bonilla was better and Webb left the game after seven innings on the wrong side of a 2-0 score.

Bonilla, in fact, was close to perfect.  He gave up a one out double to Ryan Gill in the first inning, then retired eleven straight before walking Danny Massiatte with out in the fifth.

Bonilla was overpowering, striking out twelve over the first eight innings.  He carried a one hit shutout into the ninth and the Cajuns were three outs away from being completely dominated for the first time all season.

Bonilla had faced just three over the minimum, which meant he had to face the top of the Cajuns order in the ninth.  Bonilla retired Steven Feehan on a foul pop up.  But Ryan Gill bounced a single in the hole between short and third and Nathan Nelson followed with a sharp single in the same spot.  That brought up Brett Bailey, who had been inserted in left field for Will Hawkins in the top of the eighth.  He flew out weakly to short right field and the Cajuns were down to their last out.

That brought up Tommy Clark as the Cajuns’ last hope.

The Cajuns brought back most of their every day lineup in 2000 from a 1999 team that made it to a super-regional in the first year of the 64 team field.  But one of the newcomers was Clark, who transferred in for his senior season from Texas A&M.  Clark gave the Cajuns a player who could hit near the middle of the order and hit with some power.  Clark also could run a little (he stole fourteen bases) and had a great arm from right field.

Clark was 0-3 in the game, having struck out once against Bonilla.

With two outs, Nelson, who was at first, yelled “let’s go.”  He was yelling it to Gill, standing on second base. Clark took a pitch for strike one.  Nelson yelled to Gill again.  This time, Gill got the message and on the second pitch, a called strike, Gill and Nelson executed a double steal without a throw to put two runners in scoring position.  Both could run and a single to the outfield would now tie the game.  But Clark was down in the count at 0-2.

He took ball one and then fouled off a pitch.  Then game ball two and other foul.  Then ball three.

Bonilla kept challenging Clark.  And, Clark hung tough, fouling off a pitch.  Then two.  Then three.

The large crowd at Tigue Moore was now on its feet and on every foul ball, they got a little louder.

Another foul.  Another.

And another.

Then on the fourteenth pitch of the at-bat, Clark connected and sent a shot to the left of dead center field and over the head of center fielder Matt Groff.  Gill and Nelson scored easily and Clark reached third on a close play.

After that hit, it was just a question of when it would end.  And, it ended with the next batter as Massiatte hit a cue ball off the end of the bat that bounced off the glove of second baseman James Jurries as Clark scored and the crowd went bonkers.

The Cajuns were 29-2.

But they would go just 10-13 the rest of the regular season, including a stretch after the Tulane win where they lost eight out of nine.  The regular season ended with the Cajuns losing their only three games at Tigue Moore all season, getting swept by UNO as the Privateers won the regular season Sun Belt title by a half-game.

Back then, the regional sites were announced the week before the pairings, which meant all of the hosts would get the word before their conference tournaments.  The sites were announced on a conference call held by the chairman of the selection committee.  I decided to call in to hear the announcements, curious as to what sites would be close enough to Lafayette, besides Baton Rouge, where the Cajuns might travel.  They announced the sites in alphabetical order.

Atlanta.  Clemson.  Columbia.  Coral Gables. Fullerton.  Houston.

Lafayette.

WHAT???

It took me by surprise for a second, then I heard “hosted by Louisiana-Lafayette.”

The Cajuns, despite not winning their conference, despite losing 13 of their last 23 games, were going to play host to a regional.

I continued to listen, knowing the question would be asked.  And, it was.

The committee chair made two points.  The Cajuns were judged on their body of work throughout the season.  And, he stated the regional came down to Lafayette or New Orleans.  The Cajuns were awarded the regional over Tulane based on their season sweep of the Green Wave.

And, that’s how fourteen pitches became the most important regular season at-bat in the history of Cajuns baseball.

 

(NCAA Box Score and information from UL Media Relations and assistant coach Anthony Babineaux contributed to this story.)

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