SAN MARCOS, Texas — Jordan Wallace did her thing in the circle, and UL-Lafayette’s hitters followed suit at the plate.
When those two things happen, it’s usually a good day for the No. 10 Ragin’ Cajuns softball team.
Wallace fanned nine and allowed only three hits against Georgia State’s power-laden lineup, and the Cajuns belted four home runs as UL-Lafayette posted a 10-2 run-rule win over the Panthers in its first outing in the Sun Belt Conference softball tournament Thursday.
The Cajuns (38-8) had drawn a bye to the second day of the eight-team event courtesy of their regular-season title but looked none the worse for the layoff in scoring at least one run in every inning.
“It felt good to finally get to play, for sure,” said Lexie Elkins, the Cajuns’ catcher and two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year. “We’ve been off, what, five days now? It was like we were really anxious to get back out there and play.”
Elkins’ anxiousness was quelled by a four-RBI day that included her 28th home run of the year in the first inning, one that came after Wallace’s only mistake pitch of the day. Georgia State catcher Ivie Drake, the league’s Freshman of the Year, had a two-out homer in the top of the first.
“When she hit that, I had a mini-heart attack,” joked Wallace (16-4), who settled in and allowed only one hit the rest of the way. “That just reminded me to keep the ball down. I knew I needed to come out and attack and establish the zone.”
After that homer and a following walk, Wallace retired the next eight batters she faced, and the Cajuns began feasting on Panthers pitching. Elkins’ two-run shot was followed by a solo homer by D.J. Sanders in the third, a two-run shot by Haley Hayden in the fourth and a game-ending solo shot by Kelsey Vincent to lead off the sixth and provide the mercy-rule eight-run lead.
“I thought all nine hitters in our lineup were locked in,” Cajuns associate head coach T.J. Hubbard said. “The ones that weren’t getting hits were still finding ways to get on base, and the bottom of our order was as locked in as I’ve seen them.”
The win puts top-seeded UL-Lafayette into Friday’s 1 p.m. winner’s bracket final against rival and second-seeded South Alabama (36-10), which beat UL-Monroe 6-2 in Thursday’s other game. The winner of that game moves into Saturday’s 1 p.m. championship game.
The only other struggles for Wallace came in the fourth and fifth innings. A walk and a fluke Lauren Coleman single — a foul popup that was blown back into fair ground by the howling winds — provided two runners in the fourth before Wallace fanned Kensey Caldwell for the final out. One inning later, two walks preceded Drake’s RBI single, but Wallace retired the final four batters she faced.
“She came out and threw six or seven strikes to start the game,” Hubbard said of Wallace. “She had a little bobble against Drake, but she was able to come back and be really solid. She did a great job of establishing the zone.”
Hayden’s RBI single in the second made it 3-1, and Sanders’ third homer of the year one inning later added to that margin. Hayden’s 12th home run scored Kelli Martinez ahead of her in the fourth, and Elkins’ ground ball provided a third run that inning.
The Cajuns almost had the run-rule win one inning earlier when Leandra Maly scored on a wild pitch and Elkins drew a bases-loaded walk for a 9-2 lead, but GSU left fielder Morgan Brown ran down a Samantha Walsh drive in the left-center gap to send the game to the sixth inning.
Vincent made up for that when she took Chelsea Stanfield’s second pitch of the sixth over the left-field wall for the game-ender — making it four run-rule wins over GSU (37-21) in four games this season.
“Being the conference tournament, the stakes are higher,” Elkins said. “Everybody’s playing for their lives, and they’re giving it everything they have.”