And then the wheels fell off.
The Panthers, who played error-free baseball through five innings, committed three miscues in the sixth frame, allowing the Pios to blow open a 1-1 tie and go on to an 11-1 victory in their regional-round matchup at Miller Stadium.
The final blow was a walk-off grand slam by Austin Robichaux which capped off a 10-run, sixth-inning explosion and ended the game by the 10-run rule.
“We knew that they (Notre Dame) were solid,” said Bunkie coach Frankie Palermo, whose squad finished the season with a record of 19-10. “We knew we couldn’t make any mistakes; that’s the key to playing Notre Dame.
“It just kind of snowballed on us (in the bottom of the sixth) and we just couldn’t really shut it down. A little frustration kind of bled through and that’s what got us.”
Bunkie starting pitcher Hudson Bain baffled the Pios for five innings, limiting Class AAA’s top-ranked team to just two hits - both in the fourth inning - and one run.
Bain left the game after the fifth, giving way to Blake Guillot.
Guillot gave up an infield hit to Mitch Corzine to start the inning. That was followed by an error on a sacrifice bunt that gave the Pios runners at second and third. Following a strikeout, Guillot intentionally walked Pete Petitjean to load the bases.
Bunkie’s strategy seemed to work when Ricky Stoma grounded to third base but a low throw to the plate to get the lead runner was dropped and the Pios took a 2-1 advantage.
The error bug didn’t stop there. though.
A grounder to third by Nick Gossen was snagged by Tyler Gremillion, but the throw to first was wide and went down the first base line, allowing three more runs to score.
Back-to-back two-out singles by Luke Bourgeois and Corzine loaded the bases again and Austin Robichaux, who was sat down on strikes for the first out of the inning, then delivered the final blow with a walk-off home run over the left center field wall.
“We had a game plan coming in,” said Palermo. “We have a big, hard-throwing guy (Guillot) and we have a softer-throwing guy that works well inside (Bain). It was in my brain that Notre Dame sees everybody’s No. 1. The game plan was to keep them off balance and we did that for six innings.
“I asked Hudson to give us three innings and then we were going to go to Blake, who is our No. 1. But it was rolling well and until he showed some signs of fatigue, we left him on.”
Bunkie had a chance to take swing the momentum in its favor in the top of the sixth when Bake Quirk singled to center and Bain came through with a one-out single to right and then stole second to give the Panthers runners at second and third.
Guillot then grounded back to the mound and Corzine fired to the plate to get Quick attempting to score on the hit. Gremillion then hit a hard chopper up the middle but Corzine got a glove on it, deflecting it to second baseman Austin Robichaux, who threw Gremillion out at first to end the threat.
“We’ve had some clutch stuff this year and we’ve also had some struggles offensively,” said Palermo. “Today, it was a tendency to push, to force, and I really didn’t want to get out of our rhythm. I felt good. We were putting the bat on the ball towards the end and I felt like we could score on him (Corzine). We had a few base running miscues and a couple of missed opportunities but I felt like we were going to catch that up.”
Bunkie totaled five hits off Corzine in the six-inning contest.
Quirk had two of those hits, both singles, while Guillot had a single and an RBI. Bain and Dylan Boatner had Bunkie’s other two hits.
“I thought we did a good job for five innings,” said Palermo. “They are a solid ballclub and we hung with them. It was a good solid ballgame until we just ran out of gas.”