LAFAYETTE — When outfielder Kassidy Zeringue safely clutched the final out against a Pac-12 power, the Louisiana-Lafayette softball squad had secured the right to a 24-hour celebration.
That was the excitement and the reality for the No. 7 Ragin’ Cajuns after their 5-4 triumph over No. 5 Oregon in the Louisiana Classics on Saturday at Lamson Park.
“Today, it means a lot. ... Tomorrow, it means nothing,” Cajuns coach Mike Lotief said. “If it was the last game of the season, we could be having a parade. But now, it’s one of 50, and that’s why they call these kids grinders. We make a big deal about it today, and then tomorrow you forget about it.”
For the Cajuns (7-1) to break through against Oregon All-America pitcher Cheridan Hawkins, it was vital to remember what happened Friday when they faced Hawkins in a 6-3 defeat. Their ability to do so gave them a series victory.
For Cajuns second baseman Hayley Hayden, that moment came in the second inning, when she stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded with the score tied at 1. Hayden laced an 0-1 pitch to left-center that split the gap and brought home Kara Gremillion, Sara Corbello and DJ Sanders to make it 4-1.
“I was just trying to make adjustments from previous at-bats, and I was just treating that as a team at-bat,” Hayden said. “(Hawkins) is good enough to still nibble at the corners with the bases loaded. I was just looking for a pitch to hit.”
That handed Cajuns starter Alex Stewart some breathing room. It turned out to be a critical cushion: The Ducks gradually gained their footing after facing a four-run deficit.
“In Game 3 of this series, there were no more secrets or surprises (from the pitchers),” Lotief said. “We had good at-bats. We battled, and give Oregon credit. Oregon doesn’t go away, and we don’t, either.”
After Sanders singled in a run to put the Cajuns up 5-1, the Ducks (6-3) delivered a pair of runs in the third inning to close the gap. Nikki Udria, who hit a solo homer in the first for the Ducks’ first run, drove in their second with a sacrifice fly, and Koral Costa’s run-scoring single made it 5-3. Stewart ended the threat when she got Hailey Decker to pop out to left.
“You saw what happened to Hawkins, and she didn’t get through the third inning,” Lotief said. “It’s impressive that Alex had seen the same hitters through 14 innings (and succeeded).”
The Ducks put runners on first and third in the fifth before a Stewart wild pitch let Alyssa Gillespie cross the plate and pull Oregon within 5-4. But Costa flied out to center before Gremillion snagged a liner off the bat of Decker. Gremillion tossed the ball to second to double off a runner and end the inning.
The Ducks made one more push to even the score in the sixth. They sent runners to second and third with one out, but Stewart induced a foul pop out and a fly out. Stewart retired the Ducks in order in the seventh to improve to 5-0.
Cajuns catcher Lexie Elkins was 2-for-4 with a first-inning solo homer, her seventh of the season.
The Cajuns complete tournament play at 12:30 p.m. Sunday against Central Arkansas.