SAN MARCOS, Texas — Louisiana-Lafayette’s softball team had the situation it wanted Saturday in the final moments of the Sun Belt tournament.
Down 2-0 after South Alabama pushed across two unearned runs in the seventh inning, the Ragin’ Cajuns had runners at first and second base with two outs and had national home run leader Lexie Elkins at the plate. Elkins, who is on pace for a Division I record for homers per game, had home runs in each of UL-Lafayette’s first two tournament games.
The Jaguars weren’t going to let Elkins have the chance at a game-winner.
“With Lexie there, we were going to work a ball off the plate and not give in,” said USA coach Becky Clark, who made a trip to the circle to talk to freshman pitcher Devin Brown before she pitched to Elkins. “We were going to take our chances ... it’s not like (Samantha) Walsh doesn’t have the same potential, but we were going to spin something off the plate and if she didn’t swing, go on to the next one.”
The strategy worked: Walsh grounded back to the pitcher for the final out.
“I figured I wasn’t going to see anything,” said Elkins, whose 29 homers are one off UL-Lafayette’s school record.
Elkins’ current pace of 0.60 homers per game (29 in 48) is the same as UTEP’s Camilla Carrera, who had that mark for the NCAA record in 2012.
“That’s absolutely what we wanted,” Cajuns coach T.J. Hubbard said of Elkins’ opportunity in the seventh.
Elkins, pitcher Jordan Wallace and shortstop D.J. Sanders were named to the all-tournament team after voting by the eight coaches in the tournament.
They were joined by South Alabama pitchers Devin Brown and Farish Beard, third baseman Emily Messer and shortstop Kaitlyn Griffith, who was named Most Outstanding Player. Georgia State pitcher Katie Worley and catcher Ivie Drake, and UL-Monroe pitcher Melanie Coyne also were named to the team.
UL-Lafayette has won 12 Sun Belt titles since softball became a league championship sport in 2000, including last year’s title. But USA now has won three of the past four league tournament crowns.
Last year, the Jaguars were in the same situation as the Cajuns were in this year’s event. USA beat UL-Lafayette 4-2 in an eight-inning winners’ bracket final last season at Lamson Park, before the hosts beat UL-Monroe to get back to the final game, where the Cajuns beat the Jaguars 4-1.
South Alabama claimed the Sun Belt’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but UL-Lafayette is assured of receiving an at-large bid to the tournament, which begins Friday at 16 on-campus regional sites. The bid will be the Cajuns’ 25th in 26 years, having made the field every year (with the exception of 1998) since 1990.
The Cajuns, who hosted a regional and super regional last year, were 10th in the RPI entering the week and could earn one of the 16 regional host sites when the announcements are made at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU. South Alabama was 29th in the RPI entering the tournament, and the league has a potential third postseason team with Georgia State on the bubble at No. 43 in the RPI.
The Ragin’ Cajuns will gather at their Lamson Park home field to watch the announcement Sunday.
“It won’t be hard for this team to get back up,” Hubbard said. “They’ll bounce back in a hurry.”