LAFAYETTE — When the Louisiana-Lafayette softball team made early strides against No. 5 Oregon on Friday, the Ducks responded by putting in a closer in the first inning.
The Ragin’ Cajuns and Oregon split the first pair of games at the Louisiana Classics at Lamson Park; the No. 7 Cajuns scored a 3-2 victory before the Ducks held on for a 6-3 win behind All-America pitcher Cheridan Hawkins.
Oregon enjoyed a fast start in the second game, bringing home a pair of runs in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Alyssa Gillespie singled on a bunt and advanced to third on a throwing error by freshman Kara Gremillion. Nikki Udria was hit by a pitch, and the Ducks appeared to be set up for a big inning.
A caught stealing and a popout gave the Cajuns (6-1) a chance to avoid damage, but a high pop by Hailey Decker hit the dirt between Cajuns fielders to put Oregon (6-2) ahead 1-0.
“We never execute perfectly, and that is not the burden we put on our kids,” coach Mike Lotief said. “We never have to play perfect, but we do have to play better.”
That improvement came in the seventh inning when they were facing a 6-0 deficit. Lexie Elkins got things going by smashing a long solo homer to left. Sara Corbello helped the Cajuns take another step by lining a two-run homer to left-center.
Gremillion, who earlier lashed a double off Hawkins, had one more battle against the All-American. Gremillion worked Hawkins into a full count and fouled off a few pitches before Hawkins finished the game with a called third strike.
But Lotief was excited about what he had just seen.
“I love when a freshman can walk into this environment and just fight,” Lotief said. “It’s not about her being a big hero. That is unbelievable. This is where she wanted to be, and it was fun watching her go get it. I like that our kids competed.”
Hawkins got the win by allowing three runs and five hits in seven innings. Kylee Jo Trahan (1-1) took the loss; she allowed six runs and 10 hits in five innings. Koral Costa was 2-for-4 with a two-run homer for the Ducks.
In the first game, the Cajuns’ Alex Stewart scattered 10 hits while walking nobody and striking out five.
The Cajuns snapped a scoreless tie thanks to three runs in the top of the fourth. Gremillion got the Cajuns on the board with a two-run double that brought home DJ Sanders and pinch-runner Kendall Smith. Gremillion scored the final run on a single by Haley Hayden.
The Ducks made a push to answer in the bottom of the fifth when they started with consecutive singles to put runners at first and third. That rally resulted in a pair of runs, and Oregon was threatening to even the score when Gillespie reached third base with two outs. But Stewart coaxed Jenna Lilley to fly out to right to end the threat.
“We go with an attack mindset,” Stewart said. “They are a really good team, but I don’t really think about that (in terms of attacking). It’s going to be the same pitch regardless.”
Stewart improved to 4-0 with an efficient effort that was a revelation for both her and the coaching staff.
“Alex is a totally different pitcher,” Lotief said. “She changed her mindset and transformed her body. She waited a long time for moments like this.”
The Cajuns’ next moment to test their early-season progress comes at 1 p.m. Saturday when they tangle with Oregon in a figurative rubber game. The Cajuns host Central Arkansas on Sunday to conclude the tournament.