OKLAHOMA CITY — Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson had one big concern coming into Thursday night’s first-round game against Louisiana-Lafayette in the Women’s College World Series.
“When they hit it, it goes far,” she said of UL-Lafayette’s batters.
With that thought in mind, Kentucky pitcher Kelsey Nunley did everything she could to keep the Ragin’ Cajuns from making contact, allowing only one hit in the Wildcats’ 4-1 win at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
UL-Lafayette came into the game 10th nationally with 6.55 runs per game, and in the top 40 with a .307 team batting average.
But Nunley, with a 1.85 ERA, countered by working the corners of the plate to keep the Cajuns off balance.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t prepare for it or it or we didn’t make adjustments. It just wasn’t our game,” sophomore catcher Lexie Elkins said. “I trust that if we faced her again, we’d be able to do our jobs. But she was throwing us in and out. She threw that little riseball sometimes and threw her changeup.”
UL-Lafayette’s only hit was a home run by Elkins in the first inning, her fifth in the NCAA tournament. But the Cajuns failed to find any more offense despite putting five runners on base via walks.
“Offensively we’ve been good for the last month and a half,” UL-Lafayette coach Michael Lotief said. “This team has not had a bad game and has kind of been in a rhythm.
“At some point, you’re just not gonna have it. There’s no reason to go soul-searching. These kids know how to hit. They’re competitors. They wanted to hit tonight. They were prepared. We knew what the other pitcher was gonna do.”
Thursday marked the first time all season UL-Lafayette had been held to one hit.
Lawson felt her pitcher had a little something extra on the ball Thursday night.
“As somebody who has watched every pitch she has thrown this year, she threw hard today. Very hard,” Lawson said. “Her pitches had a lot of bite to them. It was spinning tight, and I don’t think they were ready for that tight spin. Overall, it was just her legs and her pitch speed was really high, and I think that’s what helped push her over the edge today.”
UL-Lafayette worked the count well against Nunley, forcing five walks. But the Cajuns couldn’t push any runs acress, or even advance the runners past first in many cases. They left a runner on base in five of the seven innings.
With No. 2 seed Alabama or reigning champion Oklahoma up next in Saturday’s elimination game, Lotief isn’t concerned about Thursday’s performance carrying over.
“These kids know how to hit,” Lotief said. “They’re gonna bounce back.”