LAFAYETTE — When the Ragin’ Cajuns hit a rough stretch Saturday, they received some inspiration from a strikeout ... by one of their own hitters.
Baylor had a one-run lead in the winner’s bracket game at the Lafayette regional when Louisiana-Lafayette outfielder Aleah Craighton stepped to the plate with D.J. Sanders on first base. Craighton walked away with a swinging strikeout, but she also provided a spark.
“Aleah in her first at-bat, she sees 10 pitches and she battled and she fouled pitches off,” Cajuns coach Mike Lotief said. “That gave us energy. Sometimes it looks like they are failing, but they are building momentum for later in the game.”
That momentum helped cement a 3-1 victory by the Cajuns that catapulted them into the championship game that was scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday. If an additional game is necessary, that will be played at 8:30 p.m. Their opponent will be Weber State, Mississippi State or Baylor.
Both Sanders and Craighton figured heavily into the Cajuns’ plans for a comeback against Baylor.
While starting pitcher Jordan Wallace battled a high pitch count, she was able to limit the Bears to a run despite throwing 77 pitches in the first three innings.
“I worked out some kinks, and that helped me and gave me more confidence,” Wallace said.
When Baylor (39-16) struggled to increase the lead during those first few innings, it was a familiar development, Bears coach Glenn Moore said.
“We scored first, but we missed too many opportunities to score,” Moore said. “That has been our Achilles’ heel all year. All year we have applied pressure to ourselves instead of to the (opposing) pitcher.”
The Cajuns made their move in the bottom of the fifth when Sanders and Craighton started the inning with a single and a walk. A sacrifice moved them to second and third before leadoff hitter Haley Hayden sent a hard grounder to second. Ari Hawkins was unable to backhand the ball, and Sanders came home to even the score at 1.
The Cajuns later were able to set up Lexie Elkins for a bases-loaded, one-out situation. Elkins’ liner to deep center scored Craighton and put the Cajuns ahead for good.
For some of the Cajuns hitters, having previously seen Baylor starter Heather Stearns — when the teams met in a doubleheader April 11 — was beneficial.
“We had a better plan (this time),” Craighton said. “We knew what she could throw. It helped us.”
The Cajuns (41-9) tacked on a third run in the sixth inning thanks to a RBI single from Craighton that brought home Leandra Maly. Wallace closed the game on a pair of strikeouts and a grounder in the seventh.
“Our effort was great, but against a team like that, you have to take advantage of opportunities,” Moore said. “Jordan struggled, and her pitch count was around 70 ... but then she seemed to get better as the game went along.”
Sanders finished 3-for-3 for the Cajuns with a run. Robin Landrith had a run-scoring single for Baylor.
“This thing is a long way from being over,” Lotief said. “Hopefully we don’t celebrate tonight. Those games against Baylor are razor thin.”