AUBURN, Ala. — The Louisiana-Lafayette softball team successfully danced around danger for six innings, but its high-wire act finally got the better of the Ragin’ Cajuns late — and Auburn didn’t even have to swing the bat.
The Cajuns walked seven batters during a five-run seventh inning rally, the last five of which came with the bases loaded, and Auburn tacked on two more runs in the eighth to stun the Cajuns 12-11 in the first game of the NCAA tournament’s best-of-three Auburn super regional Friday.
“These kids fight and sacrifice and they have courage to dream big and step into the arena, and sometimes when things don’t go your way, you have to accept responsibility and move on,” coach Mike Lotief said. “We are ready to do that.”
Jordan Wallace was a master escape artist early, leaving the bases loaded in each of the first four innings. But she finally slipped when walking along the razor’s edge in the bottom of the seventh.
With her team leading 10-5, Wallace gave up a walk and a single before recording two quick outs.
Earlier in the game, she was able to find the big pitch when she needed it. She faced nine batters with the bases loaded in the first four innings, and those batters went 0-for-8 with a walk and six strikeouts.
But she couldn’t find that pitch in the seventh. She walked three straight batters with two outs, bringing two runs home. Wallace fell behind the next batter 2-0 before Lotief pulled her in favor of Christina Hamilton.
Wallace threw 208 pitches in the game but was still in line to earn the win when she was pulled.
“I am not really concerned with how many pitches I threw,” Wallace said. “I just wanted to get the win. Honestly, I wanted to do it any way possible. That is all I was thinking.”
But something strange happened between Wallace leaving and Hamilton entering. After throwing her warm-up pitches, Hamilton tossed back and forth with third baseman Samantha Walsh while waiting for the game to resume. Pitchers are only allowed five warmup pitches, and the umpires ruled the two throws to third base would count as pitches. It counted as another walk, bringing another run home.
“I wasn’t surprised that he called it,” Lotief said. “But I was surprised he allowed more than one to happen. When the first one happens … you’re supposed to stop her. But that wasn’t the game. We’ve got to accept responsibility for giving that game away.”
Hamilton walked home one more batter before finally ending the inning on a pop fly to second base.
The Cajuns were still alive, though. Haley Hayden led off the eighth inning with a double down the left-field line, then scored on a wild pitch to put the Cajuns ahead. But Auburn had another rally brewing.
After another walk to lead off the inning, the Tigers bats finally came to play. Haley Fagan singled up the middle and was followed by a booming double from Morgan Estell that brought home the tying run.
Lotief lifted Hamilton in favor of Alex Stewart, who was faced with the difficult task of getting three outs with the winning run 90 feet away. She got one with a big strikeout of Auburn’s home run leader Jade Rhodes, but pinch hitter Whitney Jordan’s ground ball to second was enough to plate Fagan, who slid in with the game-winning run just ahead of the tag.
The meltdown spoiled a fantastic day by the Cajuns offense, which tagged Auburn pitching for 11 runs on 12 hits, four of which left the ballpark.
Lexie Elkins gave the Cajuns an early lead when she smashed a 3-2 pitch well over the left-field fence for a solo home run, her 32nd of the season.
The Cajuns then started off the second inning with a walk followed by back-to-back singles, bringing No. 9 hitter Kelli Martinez to the plate with runners at second and third with one out. But after the count got to 1-1, Lotief opted to send Sara Corbello to the plate as a pinch hitter.
Corbello has developed a bit of a reputation for delivering with runners on base: Entering the at-bat, she had 14 RBIs on just five hits. She added to those totals when she drilled a two-run opposite field double down the right-field line, giving the Cajuns a 4-1 lead.
The Cajuns tacked on three more in the fourth inning on Hayden’s RBI single and Shellie Landry’s two-run double, then followed that with three solo home runs — two of which came off the bat of Kelsey Vincent.
“We really trusted our plan and each other. We tried to play a team offense and work off of each other’s at bats,” Vincent said. “I think we are going to do that (Saturday). If we do that, then we can’t have any regrets.”
The Cajuns are now one loss from elimination, and after losing in such disheartening fashion, it can lead one to wonder how prepared they’ll be for Saturday. They’ll have to sweep a doubleheader to advance to the Women’s College World Series for the second straight season.
But Lotief insisted his ladies will be ready.
“We are ready to play,” Lotief said. “This is for a chance to go to the World Series. Did you think we were going to give up? We are coming to win a doubleheader tomorrow, and we have done it all year.”