Leger Relaxed And Ready For Ragin’ Cajuns 2016 Season [VIDEO]
What would you do if your boss offered you the most important task in the office on your very first day on the job? Gunner Leger handled it like a walk in the park.
Last season as a freshman, Tony Robichaux named Leger the Friday starter for Ragin’ Cajuns Baseball. The first pitcher of any series sets the tone and gives their team a chance to take the upper hand heading into the next two games. It’s not typically a role that coaches give to untested players, but Leger was made for this.
Some people would buckle under that type of pressure, but not Leger. Pressure? What pressure?
“I wouldn’t really consider that pressure,” Leger said delivered with a cool countenance. “Last year, I came in and tried to be the guy that everybody could trust.”
He earned that trust by leading the team in starts (18), innings pitched (114.1) and strikeouts (87), while coming in second in ERA (2.99) in his first year on campus. There’s no question who the Friday starter will be again in the 2016 season, and he is one of the leaders on the team, despite his status as an underclassman.
When it comes to pitching, some skills are taught and others are in the genes. Not only does Leger have the “stuff” on the mound to be considered Robichaux’s ace, he has the warrior’s mindset. Leger pitched seven innings or more nine times last year, and he might have had a few complete games if Dylan Moore wasn’t waiting in the bullpen.
If it were up to Leger, Coach Robe would stay in the dugout for the entirety of his starts.
“I just go out there and throw until coach tells me I’m done,” Leger said. “If I could, I would go out and throw all nine.”
He won’t have to go nine innings this year either, thanks to an incredibly deep pitching staff. He returns with fellow sophomore starters Wyatt Marks and Evan Guillory, and freshman Nick Lee was named the Sunday starter for opening weekend. Hogan Harris’ fresh arm adds onto an already talented bullpen, which means Coach Robe will have five possible starters and a ton of situational arms. Leger is the leader, but he’s not doing it alone.
All the pitchers share one luxury: Nick Thurman behind the plate.
Coach Robichaux and the rest of the Cajun staff showered “Thurm” with compliments all last season for his handling of the young pitching staff. He will be asked to do the same in his final year on campus.
“Nick made it a lot easier on everybody. He’s going to make it a lot easier for all these freshman this year,” Leger said. “You always like having that fifth year senior behind you.”
Thurman helps take some of the pressure off, which will be needed this season. The preseason hype is cranked way up, and it has everything to do with their breakout success the past few years.
Any team that reaches back-to-back Super Regionals demands attention. Last season, they caught some people off guard in what some thought would be a rebuilding year. This year, they won’t be surprising anybody.
It’s good thing pressure doesn’t affect Leger. The weight of bringing a team to a third consecutive super regional could be crippling to weaker psyches. Fans always want to reach for bigger and better things, but the past two years set a staggeringly high standard. Now that teams have more tape on Leger, will it be harder for him to live up to their expectations as well? The best way to hush possible critics is to give them what they want early and often.
“Last season, we didn’t get off to a hot start; 15-12 at the midway point was not what anybody would want, so I think we’re going to get off to a good start and keep rolling,” Leger said.
He has the chance to get the ball rolling himself, Friday night against Sam Houston State. The lights at M.L. Tigue Moore Field are literally brighter this year, but Leger knows how to handle even the biggest stage.