By Reily Chestnut
How fast can things change over the course of a month? Because Texas State baseball has forced a fair share of folks to look at this team differently, but a 10 game win-streak might do that. The ‘Cats have been piling up comebacks, and batting beatdowns against teams like Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, Texas and the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. What was the secret ingredients that made this series sweep nicely for Texas State? Let’s take a look.
There’s only one way to describe game one in Lafayette, Louisiana: marathon. Every run was earned at a snail’s pace. The ‘Cats first run was gifted by shortstop Dalton Shuffield after Cajun starter Brandon Young threw an error on the board. Center fielder Brennan Breaux committed the same atrocity off senior Skyler Valentine’s ringing double just one batter later.
It would be a theme of the series that both team’s pitching staffs would have free passes, and sloppy play come back to bite them. The worst was yet to come after the Bobcats scored nine runs in the fifth to jump out to a laughable 10-0 lead.
The game must be over right? Wrong. Louisiana’s embattled battalion scratched off 9 straight runs to cut the lead down to one for Texas State. That’s when Zachary Leigh had to come in, and clean up the mess. He certainly needed it after losing his control against Arkansas State. The righty immediately got a pop up from Hunter Kasuls to end the comeback attempt by Louisiana, but Leigh had more to give on Friday. He delivered by holding Louisiana’s hitters hitless in the eighth and ninth inning, including striking out Orynn Veillon to end the game: 13-9 Bobcats. 1-0 series lead.
After throwing out four Bobcat pitchers Friday night, one thing was certain for head coach Ty Harrington–Saturday starter Hunter McMahon needed to last. That was all he needed was to go deep and utilize his live fastball/curveball combo. Who would’ve thought he would go the whole nine yards! McMahon not only saved the Bobcats from throwing out any relievers, but he kept them on ice. McMahon had arguably the biggest performance on his career so far.
The junior from St. Louis threw out 111 pitches with a career-high 11 strikeouts en route to the Bobcats first complete game win of the 2019 season. At one point McMahon retired 10 straight Cajuns. It was a performance made even more pivotal due to the Bobcat offense’s surprisingly tough outing in the top halves.
The ‘Cats scored only 3 times, the lowest run total over this winning streak. McMahon didn’t seem to care–he was in a zone…the strike zone that is. The long armed righty never gave up a walk to go with those ‘Ks. The performance was perfectly timed after McMahon failed to pick up a win in any of his previous April starts. 3-2 Texas State win. 2-0 series victory with a getaway match on the horizon.
How do you follow that start if your senior Connor Reich? Simple, you pound the strike zone like you’re capable. Reich has only 11 walks this season for a reason, but before Reich could start on the hill, his offense had to get some revenge after struggling on Saturday.
The Bobcat batting order sent 10 up in the first inning. They scored five runs off only two hits. Again, Louisiana did that quite a bit on this Sunday getaway game. However, the past was doomed to repeat itself. Louisiana started chipping away against Reich thanks to stars like shortstop Hunter Cantrelle, left fielder Todd Lott and the usual suspect Hunter Kasuls.
They had backup from the unlikeliest spot in the order: 9-hole hitter O’Neal Lochridge. The bottom man in the lineup ended up hitting his first home run whiling driving in another Cajun to help Louisiana close the gap to one run in the seventh while scoring two runs on the night.
The Bobcats bullpen needed a new hero after Leigh handled the Cajun’s home cooking on Friday. This time it fell to an familiar face. Senior Brayden Theriot was thrown into the fire with only a hose to put out the flames. After some rust was thrown off in the seventh, Theriot settled in following the key moment in the game.
Pitching coach Chad Massengale came onto the mound to calm down Theriot with bases loaded for Breaux. That seemed to be the timeout that recalibrated Theriot. He struck out Breaux on a full count fastball to get the Bobcats out of the jam up 9-8. Cue sophomore John Wuthrich’s hit by pitch setting up Shuffield to drive him in and the ‘Cats gave Theriot a two-run lead he could ride home to the Bobcat win. For Theriot, it was his tenth career save.
More importantly, it gave the Bobcats the chance to extend the longest winning streak in college baseball to 10 in a row. Even more critical was how the balance of power shifted in the Bobcats’ favor out west. While the ‘Cats swept the preseason pick to take the division, UTA was swept by Appalachian State in Boone, North Carolina. That means after this weekend, Texas State is the new number one team in the Sun Belt Conference by a full game over the Mavericks.
The team is now 31-13 overall with a 15-6 conference mark. Both are the best marks for the team since they joined the Sun Belt and the fast they’ve reached 30 wins since 2009.
It’s time to face facts. Texas State baseball is hitting like a true contender while boosting their case for a spot in an NCAA regional even if they don’t get the ‘ship in Conway when they play in the conference tournament. After pulling off wins against A&M, UT they won’t be so easy to overlook.
The Bobcats play this Tuesday at UTSA before gearing up for the bottom feeding Georgia State Panthers at home next weekend. Catch all the action on KTSW 89.9!
Featured Photo courtesy of Texas State Athletics.