LAFAYETTE —Louisiana-Lafayette softball coach Michael Lotief had the lineup he wanted coming to the plate in the seventh inning, and he didn’t hesitate to tell his hitters to be aggressive.
Samantha Walsh took that advice to heart, lifting game-winning three-run homer over the left-field wall to bring the 13th-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns back in an 8-6 win over state rival UL-Monroe in the opener of their Sun Belt Conference series Saturday.
The Cajuns then followed the pitching of Victoria Brown and a six-run first inning in coasting to a 7-0 nightcap victory that extended UL-Lafayette’s streak to 11 straight wins. The Cajuns have won 25 of their past 26 games and 32 of their past 34.
In the opener, the Warhawks took a 6-4 lead in the fifth inning on Alexis Cacioppo’s grand-slam, her second homer of the game. ULM (22-24, 6-13 Sun Belt) still led 6-5 going to the bottom of the ninth, but the Cajuns had their Nos. 2-4 hitters up against Warhawks reliever Samantha Hamby.
“I told all three of them that’s where we wanted to be in the lineup,” Lotief said. “I said go up and take your hacks and accept what happens.”
“That was exactly our mindset,” said Walsh, who had a pair of RBI singles earlier in the game to help the Cajuns take a 3-0 lead. “He told us to go up and take a shot. We’ve been in that situation before, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in that position.”
Haley Hayden, whose home run leading off the bottom of the fifth brought UL-Lafayette (40-7-1, 18-1 Sun Belt) within one run, led off the seventh with a four-pitch walk. Lexie Elkins followed with a single that put the winning runs on base. Walsh then took the first pitch from Hamby (4-11) over the wall for her ninth homer.
“I was sitting on an inside pitch, and I got it,” said Walsh, who struggled at the plate early in the season.
“She brings energy to us,” Lotief said. “She has confidence, she feels good at the plate, and her teammates have her back.”
Christina Hamilton (22-1) got the win thanks to Walsh’s homer, scattering four hits.
Warhawks third baseman Cacioppo hit a two-run homer in the fourth after Rochelle Roberts took a leadoff walk, cutting UL-Lafayette’s lead to 3-2.
After two singles and a walk in the fifth, Cacioppo sent the ball a few feet over the left-field wall for her 10th homer.
The Cajuns had taken an early lead off ULM starter Melanie Coyne on Walsh’s RBI singles in the first and third, and Shellie Landry’s run-scoring triple in the first. Corin Voinche had an RBI single in the fourth after Cacioppo’s first homer.
In the second game, UL-Lafayette took advantage of Hamby’s wildness. Hamby faced eight batters, walking four and hitting two, with Landry’s two-run single and Natalie Fernandez’ infield RBI chopper bringing in three of the six runs.
That was more than enough for Brown (5-1), who retired the first 10 ULM batters and allowed three hits over six innings while walking two and striking out four. Brown worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth on two walks and an infield error, and stranded two runners in the fifth.
“Every time she gets another opportunity, she’s stepped up,” Lotief said. “She’s gotten better and better. She’s starting to believe in herself, and her teammates believe in her.”
The teams wrap up the regular season at 1 p.m. Sunday. UL-Lafayette locked up the Sun Belt regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in the league tournament last weekend. The tournament begins Wednesday at Lamson Park.