MOBILE, Ala. — A year ago to the day, Macey Smith didn’t even make Louisiana-Lafayette’s roster for the Sun Belt Conference softball tournament. She couldn’t even sit in the dugout during games.
A few days ago, the junior from Houston was still an afterthought on the Ragin’ Cajuns pitching staff.
In other words, Smith may be the most unlikely player to throw a no-hitter in a championship game of a conference tournament.
“That’s just a fairy-tale story,” coach Michael Lotief said after Smith silenced Texas State for the second straight day, retiring the final eight batters she faced in what became a 12-0 run-rule victory Saturday. “It’s almost unbelievable.”
But there was the 6-foot-1 right-hander, throwing out the final two Bobcats batters in the fifth inning and surviving a postgame onslaught from her teammates as the Cajuns won their 13th Sun Belt tournament title in the 17-year history of the event.
“You can’t think about the future. … You have to pitch in the now,” Smith said.
That she did Saturday, and she did it in unexpected fashion after replacing starter Alex Stewart only five pitches into the game. Stewart, the Sun Belt’s Pitcher of the Year, was pulled after being called for two illegal pitches to Texas State leadoff batter Kelli Baker.
That came after a wave of illegal-pitch calls during Friday’s 9-7 win over the Bobcats, when Stewart — who had walked only 23 batters all season — walked nine and only had 57 strikes in 118 pitches.
“We were going to go with Alex,” Lotief said, “but with her having the issue with illegal pitches, and then getting it called on the first pitch of the game … when they called it on the third and the fifth pitches, that was it. Alex wanted a shot, and we were going to see how the umpires were going to interpret it.”
Lotief called on Smith, who had thrown only 21.2 innings all season before Saturday’s gem.
“It was just like any other pregame,” Smith said. “We always put ourselves in a situation where we’re ready. I’d warmed up like I was going to throw the first pitch.”
It didn’t start in story-book fashion: Smith threw wildly to second base on Kimberlin Naivar’s first-pitch sacrifice bunt, and another sacrifice put runners at second and third with one out. But Smith struck out cleanup hitter Corrina Liscano and got an inning-ending ground ball.
“That was her moment,” Lotief said. “When she had the error and came back and got the strikeout, when she got out of that, she basically settled down from there.”
Smith had pitched the final two innings in Friday’s win over Texas State, giving up only one hit against eight batters for her second save. She was even more effective Saturday, not allowing a Bobcats runner past first base and giving up only a one-out walk to Sara Rupp in the second and a leadoff walk to Baker in the third. Texas State only hit three balls to the outfield, and Smith needed just 67 pitches to complete her five-inning gem.
It obviously helped that her teammates pounded Texas State starter Randi Rupp and reliever Paige Williams for 10 hits, including five for extra bases and three homers. The last of those, a fourth-inning grand slam by tournament Outstanding Player Aleah Craighton, locked up the mercy-rule win, but Smith already had made a convincing statement.
“I tried to keep the same mentality I had (Friday),” she said. “Go out pitch by pitch and try to win each pitch. When I was called on, I just did what we’re supposed to do and have the mentality to compete.”
It wasn’t just the win that created such jubilation when Smith got the final out.
“All those girls call her Mama because she takes care of all of them,” Lotief said. “She’s so selfless. She spends her whole day taking care of everyone else. Today was her day.”