Aleah Craighton has long dreamed of making one of the top 10 plays on ESPN's "SportsCenter."
With one memorable catch in Friday’s NCAA Baton Rouge softball regional, the UL-Lafayette center fielder gave herself a shot at doing just that.
In the second inning of the Ragin' Cajuns' 6-0 win over McNeese State at Tiger Park, the Cowgirls' Morgan Catron launched a deep drive toward the outfield wall. Craighton, a Dutchtown High graduate, followed the ball, then leaped over the wall to save a potential home run.
“That’s every softball player’s dream,” Craighton said, referring to the possibility of a highlight-reel catch. “I’m glad that I could do it.”
Craighton’s mid-air magic was just part of an impressive show of defensive gems that backed Alex Stewart's no-hitter.
Yes, Stewart threw a no-hitter, thanks in part to Craighton's defensive effort.
“That no-hitter’s a credit to my teammates,” said Stewart, who walked four batters and hit two others. “They took away hits with fantastic Top 10 plays. I can’t say enough about my defense.”
The Ragin' Cajuns (46-6), who extended their winning streak to 14 games, will face LSU in the second round of the regional at noon Saturday.
Stewart (26-3) threw her seventh shutout in her past eight starts. The no-hitter was the first of her career and the third no-hitter in Cajuns postseason history, joining Cheryl Longeway (1995) and Brooke Mitchell (2003).
“She didn’t have her ‘A’ game, but what impressed me is that she gutted it out,” UL-Lafayette coach Michael Lotief said of Stewart. “The kids played behind her. This kid’s a warrior.”
Catron fouled off five pitches before she apparently drove a 2-2 offering over the fence in right-center field.
A good jump on the ball enabled Craighton to position herself for a leap at the wall. Craighton said she benefited from a swirling wind blowing into the field of play.
“Initially, I thought it was gone,” she said. “I wanted to try and get to the wall and see what I could do with it. The wind grabbed it a little bit. At that point I just wanted to make the catch and not drop it.”
Stewart also benefited from sterling plays from third baseman Kara Gremillion of St. Amant, who ranged to her left in the hole on a grounder for the second out in the fifth.
The Cajuns kept Stewart’s no-hitter intact in the seventh with diving efforts from Kelli Martinez on a sinking liner in left and Haley Hayden’s diving grab toward the right-center gap.
“They made the plays and we didn’t make the plays we needed to make to win the game,” said McNeese coach James Landreneau, whose team dropped to 42-17 and had its 12-game winning streak snapped.
Craighton had the first hit of the game — a single to center in the fourth — against losing pitcher Baylee Corbello (11-4), an LSU transfer.
The Cajuns, who finished with six hits against three McNeese pitchers, broke a scoreless tie in the fourth on Corin Voinche’s two-run double and took advantage of two of the Cowgirls’ four errors an inning later to score three more runs to make it 5-0 after Lexie Comeaux’s RBI fielder’s choice.
“It’s not all about hitting for us,” Craighton said. “We take the time out to work on what matters most and defense does win games.”