The Cajuns (41-21) were held to just one hit through the first eight innings against Cougar (43-19) freshman Seth Romero, but managed to scrape out a pair of runs against Romero and reliever Aaron Fletcher in the game's final frame. Right fielder Dylan Butler scored the tying run on a squeeze bunt from centerfielder Kyle Clement with one out in the inning after leading off with a walk, and two batters later Fletcher hit designated hitter Tyler Girouard with the bases loaded to force in the winning run.
The win means the Cajuns will play for a regional championship on Monday at 1:00 p.m. against the winner of Sunday's elimination game between No. 19 Rice and Houston. The winner of that game will have to defeat the Cajuns twice on Monday, with an if-necessary game tentatively scheduled for 6:00 p.m.
The Louisiana pitching staff kept the Cajuns within striking distance all day as Gunner Leger struck out four and allowed five hits in six innings of work in his first NCAA Tournament start before handing it over to Greg Milhorn who picked up the win with three scoreless innings of relief. In all, Cajun pitchers allowed seven hits on the day without issuing a walk.
"Gunner (Leger) did a great job for us. To limit those guys to one run as a true freshman, on the road in an NCAA regional is just phenomenal," Louisiana head coach Tony Robichaux said. "But that is our system. Not to be all-conference, but to give our guys and our hitters a chance to win and he has really done that this year. He gave up that one home run, but it really shows his maturity to go back to the grindstone and kept us in the game. We felt like he was losing his legs there late after working hard for us in the Sun Belt Tournament, so we went to Millhorn and he did a great job for us like he has all year."
Romero was stellar for the Cougars, but took a no-decision after being lifted in the ninth after throwing 113 pitches. He struck out eight and allowed just an eight-inning single to Evan Powell, which broke up a no-hitter with one out in the inning.
"I thought our hitters did a good job throughout the game, and their guy was doing some special things," Robichaux said. "But we told our guys not to get down and to try and offset him with pitching and defense. And I thought we did that."
It did not take long for the Cougars to go in front as first baseman Chris Iriart deposited his 15th home run of the season over the left-field fence in the top of the first inning.
Houston loaded the bases in the top of the second with one out, but Leger bore down and got centerfielder Ashford Fulmer hit into fielder's choice and right fielder Kyle Survance to fly out to right to end the threat without giving up a run.
Leger then retired a dozen straight Cougars before UH threatened again in the top of the sixth after one-out singles from Iriart and Jacob Campbell. But the threat went no further as Leger got out of the jam with a punch out of Corey Julks and a pop out from Connor Wong.
Meanwhile, Romero was on cruise control for the Cougars and did not allow a base runner until Girouard's walk in the fifth. Still, he faced the minimum until the eighth when Powell's single and a walk to Greg Davis put a pair of runners on with two outs before Romero ended the inning with a strikeout of Nick Thurman.
After a perfect top of the ninth from Millhorn, the Cajuns offense went to work in the bottom half of the inning. Butler opened the frame with a leadoff walk, prompting the Cougars to go to the bullpen for the first time in the tournament in favor of Fletcher. After a sacrifice bunt from Blake Trahan, the Cajuns found themselves with runners on the corners after a throwing error on Connor Wong gifted UL an out.
And the Cajuns took advantage when Clement laid down a squeeze bunt on a 1-1 count that plated Butler and squared the game. Stefan Trosclair then loaded the bases with an infield single one batter later, setting up Girouard who took a 1-1 pitch off the front shoulder to force in the winning run.