UL-Lafayette softball coach Gerry Glasco insisted since the start of spring practice that Summer Ellyson had a chance to be an outstanding pitcher.
Outstanding was not a strong enough word Friday night.
The sophomore from nearby Teurlings Catholic High turned in one of the top performances in the long history of Ragin’ Cajun softball, striking out 20 Evansville batters in leading the Cajuns to a 7-1 victory in the day two finale of the Mardi Gras Classic.
Ellyson broke UL-Lafayette’s school record of 18 strikeouts in a seven-inning game, one set by Jordan Wallace against Middle Tennessee in 2014, when she got Evansville cleanup hitter Brittany Hay to look at a called third strike and caught Asheigh Downing swinging for the first two outs in the seventh inning.
The right-hander then fanned pinch hitter Kristin Koepke for her game-ending 20th strikeout in front of a deliriously happy 1,815 fans at Lamson Park.
“I thought she was going to be really special,” Glasco said, “maybe not that special. But everything I know about pitching led me to believe she was going to be dynamic, and I wasn’t disappointed.”
Ellyson (1-0) only threw 20 innings for the Cajuns last year, starting twice and going 1-0 with a 3.15 ERA. She did have 23 strikeouts in those 20 innings last year, but that paled in comparison with the domination she had over an Evansville team that hit five home runs earlier Friday in a 14-6 dismantling of Samford.
“I heard they hit five out (in the earlier game), but I just wanted to come with my best stuff,” Ellyson said. “I just kept thinking next pitch, next pitch, and if the ball got hit my teammates had my back.”
As it turned out, it didn’t get hit much. The Purple Aces (1-1) put three balls in play the entire game, all of them base hits. The only non-strikeout out recorded was a foul popup that catcher Beth Ashley gathered in for the second out in the sixth inning. Five times in the game, the sophomore retired the side on three straight strikeouts.
“My riseball, that’s what got them,” she said. “They were head over heels for it. Right from the beginning, I knew my rise was working even before I went on the field.”
Glasco added: “I saw it in the first inning. They (Evansville) are a very good hitting team and came in red hot, but they weren’t expecting this. That first inning, it was wow, they were missing bad.”
Ellyson came up two short of UL-Lafayette record for strikeouts in any game. All-American Brooke Mitchell had 22 strikeouts in a nine-inning game against Nevada in 2004.
The Cajuns (3-0) have allowed only three runs and 10 hits in three tournament games, with Evansville’s only run coming on a one-out double by Eryn Gould and a two-out single by Hay in the fourth inning. Allison Daggett’s leadoff single in the sixth was the only other hit, and the only other ball put in fair territory.
“We knew over the break that we as a staff were working hard, but we didn’t really know what we were going to have,” Ellyson said. “But we needed to have something. We worked hard together to build a deep pitching staff and I think we’re going to do really good things.”
The Cajuns offense more than did its part, scoring runs in each of the first five innings in a 10-hit attack. Freshman Jolie Readeaux had three hits and two RBIs and Brittany Rodriguez, Kara Gremillion and Aeriyl Mass all had two-hit games. Many of those were infield singles as UL-Lafayette manufactured runs with six steals and three bunts for base hits.
“Our pitching has carried us this weekend,” Glasco said. “The day I got the job, I said our keys are improving our pitching and our defense. Our hitters are going to get there, but the things we have to hang our hat on are pitching and defense, and so far we’re doing that.”
The Cajuns used those ingredients in Friday’s earlier 2-1 win over Eastern Illinois, limiting the Panthers to a solo home run from Haley Mitchell and to three hits overall. That let UL-Lafayette play the short game, and two infield singles and a pair of sacrifice bunts pushed across a tie-breaking run in the fifth inning.
Alissa Dalton’s one-out squeeze bunt plated Rodriguez, who led off that inning with a pinch-hit single, to snap a 1-1 tie and give the Cajuns their second tournament win after Thursday’s late-game 7-1 win over Samford.
Jolie Readeaux moved Rodriguez up with a sacrifice bunt and Kelli Martinez’s chopper single over EIU third baseman Tori Johnson set the stage for Dalton’s squeeze. The two infield hits were among only five for the Cajuns off Panther starter Michelle Rogers (0-1).
But Cajuns pitcher Kylie Jo Trahan was even better, scattering three hits while striking out a career-high nine Panthers. Trahan (1-0) retired the final seven batters she faced.
“That was huge for Kylie Jo to come out and do what she did,” Glasco said. “I really liked what I saw from her today. She spotted her pitches and kept them off balance with the change.”
The Cajuns had taken an early 1-0 lead when Brittany Holland led off the second with a single, stole second and eventually scored on Readeaux’s sacrifice fly. UL-Lafayette only had two ground-ball singles off Rogers until pushing across the winning run in the fifth.
Weather permitting, five games are scheduled for Saturday at Lamson Park. The Cajuns play Eastern Illinois for a second time at 2 p.m. and will meet Iowa at 4:30 p.m., before wrapping up the tournament at 12:30 p.m. Sunday against Illinois-Chicago.