SAN MARCOS, Texas — The home runs just keep coming for Louisiana-Lafayette’s softball team.
Five times Friday, the Ragin’ Cajuns left Texas State’s Bobcat Softball Field, and those five home runs were enough for a 6-3 victory over South Alabama in the Sun Belt Conference tournament winner’s bracket finale.
“We’re just locked in right now,” Cajuns associate head coach T. J. Hubbard said. “I felt like every inning, we had a chance to score runs. Those kids swung at good pitches and barreled up a lot.”
The power display gave the No. 10 Cajuns (39-8) 23 home runs in their past five games and 38 in their past 10. UL-Lafayette came into the tournament leading the nation in homers per game (2.16) and has nine in two wins here.
“A lot of people are clicking right now,” said sophomore second baseman Haley Hayden, whose solo shot to lead off the bottom of the first started a UL-Lafayette rally after USA (37-11) scored two runs in the top of the first.
After that, senior right-hander Christina Hamilton did the rest, checking the Jaguars on three hits and a seventh-inning run. Hamilton, last season’s Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year before an injury-plagued senior campaign, walked three batters and hit one in the first inning to gift-wrap USA two runs.
“I didn’t come out hitting spots like I should have,” Hamilton said. “I knew the zone would be tight, but I knew my teammates would have my back.”
The win, which improved UL-Lafayette to 50-7 all-time in Sun Belt tournament play, put the Cajuns into Saturday’s 1 p.m. championship game. They’ll face South Alabama again; after a lengthy rain delay, South Alabama beat Georgia State 3-1.
UL-Lafayette will be going for its 13th Sun Belt title in 16 years of league play.
The No. 2 seed Jaguars, who went into last weekend with a chance to win the regular-season title, pushed across two runs in the first on one hit. Emily Messer’s leadoff bloop to left was followed by two Hamilton walks before she hit Kaitlyn Griffith to bring home one run. A walk to Kristian Foster made it 2-0.
But Hamilton got Blair Johnson to ground back to the box for a 1-2-3 double play and then managed a ground ball for the third out. After that second RBI walk, Hamilton retired 12 of the next 13 she faced.
“All she needed to do was calm down a little,” Hubbard said. “After that timeout, she was locked in and did a great job the rest of the way.”
It helped that Hayden answered quickly, driving an 0-1 pitch from USA starter Kalen McGill (16-3) on a line down the left-field line for her 13th homer of the year. She also had a home run in UL-Lafayette’s 10-2 win over Georgia State on Thursday.
“(South Alabama) punched us, and we wanted to respond,” Hayden said. “I was just trying to get on base since we needed two runs.”
“That one swing, one pitch, helped us gain some momentum back,” Hubbard said. “Maybe not all of it, but it definitely gave a change to the tempo of the game.”
One inning later, freshman D. J. Sanders’ second homer of the tournament — after managing two in the regular season — tied the score. After the Cajuns left runners in scoring position each of the next two innings, national home run leader Lexie Elkins and Samantha Walsh went back-to-back over the right-center wall to chase McGill.
The defending champions had one more big swing left, with Sara Corbello lifting her first home run of the year in the sixth off USA reliever Devin Brown to score Sanders ahead of her for a 6-2 lead.
The No. 22 Jaguars got one back in the seventh on Chloe Rathburn’s two-out RBI double before Griffith fouled out to Elkins for the final out. Her juggling catch against the netting for the final out came only moments before the rain arrived.
“Our hitters controlled the tempo offensively from the first at-bat until the end of the game,” Hubbard said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more than what they did.”