Jay’s Memorable Moments #19 – One to Gros On
Louisiana 5, LSU 0
NCAA Regional-Alex Box Stadium-Baton Rouge, LA
June 1, 2002
After a dismal 2001 season that saw Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns fail to qualify for their conference tournament, played in Lafayette at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field, the Cajuns rolled their way to a second place finish in the Sun Belt Conference and an NCAA Tournament berth. It was the first NCAA Regional after 9/11 and the NCAA wanted as little travel as possible. The result was an all-Louisiana regional at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge with #1 LSU, #2 Louisiana, #3 Tulane and #4 Southern.
The Cajuns had only three .300 hitters on the team, and hit just .267, not very good in the years of a lively bat. And, defensively they weren’t great, making 92 errors on the season. But the Cajuns stole a school record 145 bases that season, with six players stealing ten or more. And, two left-handed pitchers, Justin Gabriel and Andy Gros gave the Cajuns two solid starters. However, Tim Ramon, the Cajuns’ ace from the year before, developed arm trouble and was shut down after just four appearances. The Cajuns would struggle to find a third pitcher the rest of the season. Gabriel and Gros were 21-8 that year. The rest of the staff was 16-15.
Gabriel dispatched Tulane on the first night of the regional, 5-2 after LSU squeaked by Southern 5-4. That set up a classic matchup on Saturday, with LSU ace Lane Mestepey on the hill for the Tigers and Gros for the Cajuns. LSU already had seen Gros, who threw a seven hit shutout against the Tigers at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field earlier in the season.
But the game already had a bit of an undertone. During the Tulane game on Friday night, UL athletic trainer Tiffany Gary was struck by a foul ball and received a laceration. While she was getting it treated in the clubhouse, the late Wally Pontiff, LSU’s third baseman, came in. Now Pontiff was one of the greatest competitors in LSU history and played with tremendous confidence. He was one of those guys who make everyone around him a better player. He asked Gary what had happened and then said they would be doing the same thing to Andy Gros’ changeup the next day.
The Cajuns went out in order in the first inning and Gros took the mound. He retired the first two batters and Pontiff came to the plate. Gros promptly hit him with a changeup and said “Let’s see you hit THAT.” Pontiff glared at Gros as he went to first base and Gros glared back. And, although there were no other real incidents the rest of the game, the tone for the weekend had been set.
Mestepey retired the first ten Cajuns he faced before Justin Bourque hit one over the right field wall to give the Cajuns the early 1-0 lead in the fourth. Gros breezed through the first four innings, striking out two and giving up two hits. The Tigers got a pair of two out hits in the fifth, but Gros got Pontiff to fly out to end the threat.
Leading 1-0 going into the sixth, Dallas Morris led off the inning for the Cajuns with a base hit and went to second on Pontiff’s error. A grounder moved him to third and with two outs, Corey Coles laid down a perfect bunt single to make it 2-0. A Brian Sneed homer in the seventh made it 3-0, and Coles came through again, laying down another perfect bunt with one out in the eighth to knock in another run. And, the Cajuns capped the scoring with an unearned run in the ninth.
Gros, meanwhile, gave up only one hit in the last three innings and that runner was erased on a double play to end that threat. Gros got eight of the last nine outs on ground balls and notched his second shutout of the Tigers on the season. Gros, for the year against LSU, pitched eighteen innings and allowed fourteen hits and no runs in eighteen innings.
The 5-0 win was the first time LSU had lost a regional game at Alex Box to an in-state school.
To that point, those were the only two shutouts in Gros’ career, although he would get one the following season.
Of course, with little quality pitching behind Gabriel and Gros, the Cajuns were no match for LSU the following day as the Tigers swept a doubleheader to win the regional. The animosity between the two teams escalated, resulting in finger pointing, retaliation resulting in a pitchers’ ejection, the ejection of head coach Tony Robichaux, causing him to miss the second game, and Aaron Hill’s flying bat that slipped out of his hands into the Cajuns dugout.
Following that weekend, LSU announced they were ending the regular season series. The teams would not play again until 2008.
Pontiff, of course, passed away suddenly shortly after being drafted after the 2002 season. He was mourned by all LSU fans, fans of college baseball and Cajuns fans as well. The Wally Pontiff Classic was instituted by LSU and the Pontiff family and is played annually at Metairie’s Zephyr Field. The Cajuns were invited to play in that game by the Pontiff family in 2009.
When Pontiff passed away, the first Cajun to arrive at the funeral home to pay his respects was Andy Gros.
(NCAA Box Scores and data from UL Sports Information contributed to this story.