LAFAYETTE — A drama-filled season for the Louisiana-Lafayette softball team continued Saturday as the Cajuns reached the championship round of the NCAA regional tournament at Lamson Park.
This time, Sara Corbello walked with the bases loaded to force across Samantha Walsh for the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the top-seeded Cajuns a 3-2 victory over No. 3 Texas.
UL-Lafayette (46-8-1), plays at noon Sunday in the tournament’s final round. The Cajuns need to win only once to host the first NCAA super regional in program history.
A loss by the Cajuns will force a second game to determine the tournament title.
Cajuns coach Michael Lotief said the finish against Texas was typical of the way his team has won many of its games this season.
“This is just how we play. About the fifth inning, you could see the stage being set for us, getting the heart of the lineup coming up one more time.
“We’re exactly where we want to be at this point in the tournament, but it’s a long way from being over.
“This is the way they’ve (the Cajuns) have played all year. They’ve never quit fighting and never quit believing. I thought we were right where we wanted to be at the end. We’ve been there before,” Lotief said.
Texas took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning when shortstop Taylor Thom hit a Christina Hamilton pitch over the fence in left-center field for a solo homer.
After that, Texas pitcher Tiarra Davis, who threw 157 pitches, appeared to have the game under control until the seventh.
Davis walked lead-off batter Lexie Elkins. Cassidy White, running for Elkins, reached second on Walsh’s single, and Shellie Landry loaded the bases with another base hit.
UL-Lafayette designated player Shelbi Redfearn singled in White to tie the game, and Corbello walked after Davis struck out Kelsey Vincent for the first out.
Corbello, who began the game as a designated player, said she expected Davis to throw a rise ball in an attempt to strike her out a second time.
“I felt I knew what was coming. The rise ball struck me out the last time at bat, so I had a pretty good idea I was going to see a rise ball again,” Corbello said.
Lotief said one of the Cajuns’ biggest plays came in the top of the seventh, when Kendall Smith, a defensive change for Redfearn in left field, made a diving catch of a Kellie Hanzel fly ball to end the inning with Texas pinch hitter Marlee Gabaldon on second base.
UL-Lafayette starting pitcher Christina Hamilton (26-2) completed the game, allowing three hits while walking two and striking out twio.
“I thought this was one of Christina’s best games of the season. (Hamilton) faced Texas twice last season, and they (Texas) are not a good matchup for her. I thought (on Saturday) that she trusted the players behind her and stayed in charge the whole game.
“This had to be one of her biggest games on a big stage,” Lotief said.
Davis (19-13), who threw a complete game in Friday’s 1-0 win over Mississippi State, allowed eight hits, walked six and struck out five against the Cajuns.
“I thought Davis was lights out, and she kept her composure throughout. It’s a shame the game for her had to end on a walk-off walk,” Lotief said.
UL-Lafayette left 13 runners on base, including the third, when the Cajuns scored once, then left the bases loaded.
In the bottom third, Cajuns’ second baseman Natalie Fernandez reached first on an infield single and moved to second on a Hayley Hayden single. Elkins walked to load the bases, and Fernandez scored when Davis hit Landry with a pitch.
Texas took a 1-0 lead in the top of the inning when left fielder Stephanie Wong was safe on a ball hit to the left side of the infield. Wong stole second, reached third on an Elkins error at first, and scored on a fielder’s choice.