OKLAHOMA CITY — Lexie Elkins dug her cleat into the dirt with a chance to erase a two-run deficit. Natalie Fernandez inched off second base. Haley Hayden hunched forward, the bag at first base a starting block to bolt.
A mighty swing uncoiled by Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elkins could knot the score or put the Ragin’ Cajuns in front.
Instead, a familiar and frustrating loop played out Saturday in a 3-1 loss to Oklahoma in front of 9,192 at the Women’s College World Series.
This is how this chance ended: Elkins popped up to shallow right field, Samantha Walsh whiffed at OU ace Kelsey Stevens’ fastball and Shelli Landry pounded a grounder to second base. And so, another threat was nixed on a day when the Cajuns (49-10-1) had ample chances to avoid going 0-2 at the WCWS.
UL-Lafayette stranded 11 runners on base and couldn’t crack a timely hit in at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“We never got in our rhythm, but we weren’t miserably off,” coach Mike Lotief said. “It’s a quarter of a second here, and a fraction of a second there.”
The failure to hit and, thus, score defined UL-Lafayette’s first trip back to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in six years.
Over two games, a potent lineup hit just .140, and six of those hits came off Stevens, but none timely enough to clear packed base paths.
Two home runs by Elkins, the second coming in the bottom of the seventh Saturday, were their lone extra-base hits in two losses at the WCWS. The core of the order — Hayden, Elkins and Walsh — hit .277.
Ironically, it was Stevens (38-9), a pitcher the Cajuns shellacked during a series in March, that stifled the order.
The Sooners right-hander went the distance, striking out seven batters and dodging trouble as she went.
“I don’t think it was the way they were going at us,” Elkins said. “We trusted our preparation. We trusted what we learned. Just like the game against Kentucky, it wasn’t our game. Things weren’t going our way.”
Outside of a few brief snippets, the Sooners could say the same.
Yet OU pounced after shortstop Corin Voinche booted a grounder by Lauren Chamberlain and Christina Hamilton walked Shelby Pendley. Five pitches later, designated player Brittany Williams slammed a double to the wall in the right-field gap for a 2-0 lead.
The Sooners had a chance to add more after a pair of singles to start the bottom of the third inning. Turns out, they were the last hits Hamilton (29-4), who lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, allowed until the sixth.
Williams flied out harmlessly to left field, a sacrifice fly put runners at second and third. No reason to worry, though. Hamilton simply stabbed a liner off Erin Miller’s bat to end the inning.
“We came out more aggressive this game, attacking spots a little better,” Hamilton said. “Coach Mike came and talked to me in the middle of one inning and said, ‘You don’t need to be perfect. We ain’t been perfect all year. Just calm down and play free.’ ”
Hamilton, who had a 2.00 ERA in two starts, was just about that, retiring 11 of the next 12 she faced and allowing just four hits.
Unfortunately, the Cajuns bats didn’t have her back.
In the second, Shelbi Redfearn got aboard on a fielder’s choice, followed by a Stevens walk to Kelsey Vincent. However, Sara Corbello popped out to the pitcher’s circle — a clutch two-out hit missed.
An inning later, Fernandez and Hayden got aboard with singles. Next, Elkins ended a 10-pitch standoff with Stevens by getting plunked in the left shin.
All of it was squandered with one out.
Walsh didn’t take the bat off her shoulder when she became one of Stevens’ seven strikeouts, followed by Landry grounding out.
So, as the innings waned, had the woes begun to gnaw at the Cajuns’ confidence?
“I don’t think mentally or physically we were altered by anything,” Elkins said.
While UL-Lafayette struggled, the Sooners tacked on insurance and underscored the Cajuns’ own frustrations at the plate when Callie Parsons gave Oklahoma a 3-0 lead in the sixth with an inside-the-park home run — just the second inside-the-park home run in series history.
Parsons skied a 2-0 offering from Hamilton down the left-field line, sending Redfearn racing to the line. The senior slid and reached out her glove. Redfearn came up empty. She skidded by as the ball bounced and rolled to the corner. Parsons chugged around the bases and galloped home.
“She got lucky,” Hamilton said.
Sure, Elkins crunched her homer in the seventh — frustratingly, with nobody aboard — a surge of power with the unfortunate timing to not do enough.
“I’m just thankful,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “You know she’s going to hit the ball hard somewhere.”