LAFAYETTE — As she stepped into the batter’s box, Shellie Landry was consumed with one thought as she saw the bases loaded with Louisiana-Lafayette teammates in the bottom of the seventh inning..
“With all my sisters there on base, I felt that what I had to do then was get them home,” said Landry.
Landry accomplished that in dramatic fashion Thursday night, after she belted a two-out, walk -off grand slam home run into the Lamson Park bleachers and gave UL-Lafayette a come-from-behind 5-3 victory over Western Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
The win sent the top-seeded Cajuns (42-7-1) into Friday’s 2 p.m. winner’s bracket game against No. 2 seed South Alabama (39-11), which defeated Louisiana-Monroe 8-1 in Thursday’s opening contest.
In Friday’s tourney opener, No. 6 Louisiana-Monroe plays WKU in a loser’s bracket game.
Western Kentucky pitcher Emily Rousseau, who retired 10 of the last 12 batters, got the first two UL-Lafayette hitters to ground out in the seventh.
Afterward however, Rousseau allowed consecutive base hits to Cajuns’ outfielder Haley Hayden and catcher Lexie Elkins before walking third baseman Samantha Walsh to stack the bases.
Landry, the next batter, saw the count go to 0-2 before Rousseau threw two straight pitches outside the strike zone.
“I wanted my pitch and I got it, inside corner. I was thinking hit it up the middle and get a base hit, but the moment I hit it, I knew it was out,” said Landry, who was previously 0-for-3.
UL-Lafayette softball coach Michael Lotief said Landry’s moment was perhaps justification for the personal struggles she endured early in the season.
“You talk about the game rewarding you and I think you saw that tonight. That kid (Landry) has struggled mentally, with her mother having cancer. (Landry) has struggled, but she’s stayed at it.
“Shellie has been coming on lately, but to do it that dramatically, that’s the thing you dream about,” said Lotief.
Lotief said the last inning played out as he hoped.
“The idea in the seventh was to get our part of the order back up and see what happens,” said Lotief.
Rousseau (18-17) walked six Cajuns and struck out three in the 111 pitches that she threw.
UL-Lafayette pitcher Christina Hamilton (23-1) also pitched a complete game. Hamilton surrendered six hits and struck out three on 105 pitches.
The Cajuns trailed WKU the entire game until Landry’s homer.
WKU led 2-0 in the first after lead off hitter Preslie Cruce walked and scored on a single and error when Shawna Sadler’s hit was misplayed in left field by Cajuns’ outfielder Shelbi Redfearn.
Hamilton then retired seven straight before Olivia Watkins singled with one out in the third. Watkins moved to third on a stolen base and a fielder’s choice.
Watkins was caught in a run down between third and home after Brooke Holloway doubled, but Watkins slid into home safely when the ball thrown by Walsh hit her in the back.
Lotief said Hamilton demonstrated the necessary perseverance.
“I thought (Hamilton) did a good job after they jumped on her. You know a couple of more runs and they (WKU) were going to put us away. I thought (Hamilton’s) best work was in the middle,” Lotief said.
Lotief said he knew WKU would be a formidable matchup.
“Give a lot of credit to Western. They weren’t just coming here to lay down. They were going to fight for their seniors and we had to withstand them,” Lotief said.
SOUTH Alabama 8, UL-Monroe 1: South Alabama pitcher Farish Beard struck out 13 and limited Louisiana-Monroe to two hits as the Jaguars easily advanced into the winner’s bracket of Friday’s round.
Beard (21-5) walked only one of the 22 batters she faced during her seven complete innings in the circle. Beard also retired 12 of the last 13 batters that she faced.
ULM leadoff hitter and second baseman Miyuki Navarette and center fielder Rochelle Roberts, who batted second, were the only Warhawks to hit safely.
Navarette also collected her 42nd stolen base of the season. The Warhawks seeded sixth, (24-26), who have experienced pitching problems most of the season used three pitchers and allowed seven hits.
UL-Monroe starter Samantha Hamby started, but last only 1.2 innings after she allowed five runs, with only one of those earned. Hamby didn’t strike out a batter, but walked two of the seven that she faced.
The remaining pitchers in the UL-Monroe circle included Melanie Coyne and Jessica Colliver. Coyne threw three and a third innings and surrendered the other three runs off five hits.
The Warhawks’ lone run came in the third when the Warhawks trailed 8-0. Roberts drove in Navarette, who reached first on an infield single and then stole second.
USA third baseman Emily Messer had three hits and a pair of RBI.
Messer provided the Jags’ key hit in the USA five-run second when she provided a bases loaded single.
That same inning also became a defensive problem for the Warhawks, who committed a pair of errors.
In the third Messer recorded her second RBI with another base hit.