LAFAYETTE — It was getting late, so Samantha Walsh ended it with one swing.
The Louisiana-Lafayette third baseman hit a three-run, sixth-inning, game-ending homer Sunday night to send the Ragin’ Cajuns softball team to the NCAA tournament’s super regional round against Auburn as winners of the Lafayette regional by run-rule 9-1 over Baylor.
The Cajuns needed two games against Baylor to advance. The Bears took the first game of the regional final, setting up a win-or-go-home game that started just before 9 p.m. Walsh’s homer made the Cajuns the second-to-last team to punch a super regional ticket, leaving the park just after 11 p.m.
“I was thinking, ‘I haven’t been seeing the ball very well this weekend, so to give myself the best opportunity to hit this, I’m going to have to get on top of the plate so I can see it better,’ ” Walsh said. “So that’s what I did. She put it in the right spot. I pretty much closed my eyes and I swung, and it went.”
There were two sides to the run-rule equation. The Cajuns got a tremendous performance from starter Jordan Wallace (18-5), who struck out five in six innings. And when Baylor sniffed an opportunity, she continuously found a way to snuff it out.
Wallace started a critical 1-2-3 double play in the fifth inning to kill a Baylor rally, inducing a grounder back to the mound from cleanup hitter Shelby Friudenberg to get out of a bases-loaded jam and preserve a 5-1 lead.
“I just was trying to throw strikes,” Wallace said. “It just kind of happened. I think (catcher Lexie Elkins) had to be heads up to go to (first base).”
For that performance to matter, the Cajuns needed their offense to come through against Baylor pitcher Heather Stearns, who flustered the Cajuns for most of the evening. She started both Sunday games against the Cajuns and held them hitless over their final 20 plate appearances in the Bears’ 6-2 win in the first contest.
“I just used all my pitches,” Stearns said. “I kept them guessing at (the plate) — different zones, not throwing the same pitch twice to one hitter, lots of changeups. I really just tried to keep them guessing.”
The Cajuns found a window of opportunity in the second inning when they drew a few walks, which they used to their advantage with some aggressive base running.
They brought home their first run on Aleah Craighton’s sacrifice fly to medium depth in center field, then scored another on a ground out to third base, both plays requiring nifty slides around a tag.
Baylor looked primed to respond, with runners on second and third and one out in the next inning. But Baylor catcher Robin Landrith tried to test Shellie Landry’s arm on a fly ball to left field, and Landry threw her out at the plate for an inning-ending double play.
That seemed to open the floodgates for the Cajuns. Elkins demolished a Stearns offering over the wall in left-center for a solo homer in the following inning; it was her 31st homer of the season, which set a school record.
“For Lexie to get that number, it shows how special she is,” coach Mike Lotief said. “But if she was sitting here, she would say it’s because of her teammates around her. … It’s an individual thing, but it’s not.”
Once Baylor pulled Stearns, the Cajuns teed off on the relievers, picking up five hits and four runs in 2.1 innings.
To secure their second straight trip to the Women’s College World Series, the No. 13 tournament seed Cajuns will have to defeat No. 4 Auburn on the road in a best-of-three series that begins at 1 p.m. Friday.
Lotief saved most talk of Auburn for another day. He was concentrating on savoring a hard-fought regional win.
“Being able to play a worthy opponent, and they never backed down, and we never backed down, that’s why we play,” he said. “That’s what these kids dream about, and that’s what an old man dreams about. That’s what keeps us going.”