AUBURN, Ala. — The Louisiana-Lafayette softball team’s season ended Saturday with a bit of its own medicine.
Auburn’s Kasey Cooper hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning that provided all the insurance the Tigers needed in a 6-3 victory that clinched their first trip to the Women’s College World Series.
The Ragin’ Cajuns will go home just short of their second consecutive trip to Oklahoma City after Saturday’s loss and Friday’s heartbreaking, 12-11 defeat in extra innings.
“What these kids have been able to do this year has been crazy good,” Cajuns coach Mike Lotief said. “If you’ve followed them, then you know what they’ve overcome, what they’ve done and how much they achieved.”
The Cajuns entered the game tied with Michigan for the most home runs in the nation, but they were kept in the ballpark all afternoon by Auburn’s Lexi Davis.
“This game, we were going for line drives,” catcher Lexie Elkins said. “I don’t think (Davis) had anything special. Even when we had bases loaded, we were popping the ball; it was just right at somebody.”
It wasn’t for lack of opportunities, though. Cajuns batters stranded 11 runners and were unable to capitalize on multiple bases-loaded situations, grounding into three double plays.
“We go over double plays every day,” Cooper said. “Our defense was on. We told Lexi, ‘You throw the ball, and we’ll get you out of it.’ ”
Auburn turned to small ball late in the game, bunting for base hits with several batters — including from players like Jade Rhodes who are known for their power. Auburn coach Clint Myers said the Cajuns defense left the first-base line open to the bunts.
“We’re ready for anything, even if it’s not on the scouting report,” Cajuns second baseman Haley Hayden said. “We still have to be ready for whatever they might pull against us.”
After a wild pitch allowed Auburn to take a 3-2 lead, UL-Lafayette pitcher Alex Stewart threw a riseball that Cooper lofted just over the left-field fence that proved to be the decisive blow.
“I heard some of the coaches yelling out of the dugout,” Cooper said. “Then I saw that she didn’t catch it. I was just hoping it was over.”
Following his squad’s elimination, Lotief insisted his team was not affected by Friday’s collapse, which saw the Cajuns lose a five-run lead with two outs in the seventh before losing the game in the eighth.
“How do you not get over it?” Lotief said. “Nobody died. Nobody got cancer. … Getting over a loss is part of athletics. It’s silly to think that these kids, they care about winning and losing and they put their heart and soul into it, but you don’t care so much about it that you can’t function.”
Hayden echoed the sentiments of her coach, citing a necessary “short memory” in moving past tough defeats.
“It was necessary for us to get past that,” Hayden said. “We just tried to get out there and win every pitch.”
Lotief said it is important for his team and fans to keep the loss in perspective and remember the accomplishments of this record-breaking squad, which won the Sun Belt Conference regular-season title and will finish in the top 10 in NCAA history in home runs.
“We had a great year, and they’re champions,” Lotief said. “They will forever be winners.”