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Softball: A blast so far – Wallace, two homers propel Cajuns past LSU

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 19, 2013

BATON ROUGE — Two mistakes by Rachele Fico. Two huge homers, one each by Brianna Cherry and Sara Corbello. Two-hit pitching by Jordan Wallace.

Combine all that, and the result is two victories in the books now for the UL softball team at the four-team NCAA Regional Tournament at Tiger Park here.

Unseeded UL beat No. 9-seed LSU 3-0 Saturday afternoon in a winner’s-bracket game behind a two-run homer to left by centerfielder Cherry in the top of the first and designated player Corbello’s solo shot to left in the seventh.

Wallace, who also started UL’s 3-0 victory Friday over Northwestern State, struck out 10 and improved to 30-7 while throwing her second shutout in as many days at Tiger Park.

It was another much-needed effort with the arm for Wallace in what Ragin’ Cajuns head coach Michael Lotief suspected all along would be a low-scoring pitcher’s duel.

“When you get in this environment, and the level of competition is that balanced,” Lotief said, “one pitch, one swing, one play makes the difference between victory and defeat.”

“These victories are hard to come by,” he added. “They’re tough to come by, and they’re all so hard-fought.”

Fico (24-12) allowed only two hits, the two homers, in the loss for the 41-15 Tigers.

The Cajuns, now 45-13, advance to today’s Regional championship round.

They’ll play for the title at 1 this afternoon against LSU, and if the Cajuns should lose that one they would play an if-necessary game for the Regional championship at 4 p.m. today.

LSU hammered Central Connecticut State 11-0 in Saturday’s elimination game after the Blue Devils had advance to that game with a 9-1 win over Northwestern State.

Shortstop Nerissa Myers led off Saturday’s game for the Cajuns with a walk off of Fico and Cherry drove in her cousin from Petal, Miss., by hammering Fico’s first offering high onto the hill above left

It arrived up and in, and exited quite quickly.

“I’m not gonna lie – as soon as I hit it I knew it was out,” said Cherry, whose homer was her 13th of the season.

“Basically,” the Cajun senior added, “I just came up, not looking for a certain pitch, just making sure I was putting myself in the best possible position to be successful.”

She was just that, giving the Cajuns some breathing room on a day there wasn’t going to be much to be had on either side. “These games are all going to 1-0, 2-0, and of course getting ahead early is what we are going to strive for,” Wallace said. “It gave us a boost of confidence early.”

Corbello’s two-out homer – her seventh this year – was an insurance run that, as it turned out, UL did not need to cash.

That’s in large part because Wallace was so stingy in the circle, retiring the side 1-2-3 in the first, second, third and fifth innings.

The only time Wallace found herself in real trouble was in the fourth, when LSU put runners on first and second with A.J. Andrews’ hard-hit leadoff double to short and Allison Falcon’s two-out walk.

But the sophomore from Weatherford, Texas, got out that inning by striking out Sandra Simmons, and the only hit she allowed the rest of the way was a single to Bianca Bell in the sixth.

Wallace did put Simmons on first by hitting in the lower left leg to lead off the bottom of the seventh.

But she got No. 6 hitter Kellsi Kloss to pop out to Myers and Tammy Wray to pop out to catcher Sarah Draheim before striking out Lauren Houston looking to end things.

Lotief indicated he planned to throw Wallace as much as she can go today, but he not immediately name a starter for today’s 1 p.m. game.

“She’s putting wear-and-tear on her body,” he said of Wallace, whose pitch count hit 106 Saturday. “People think windmill pitchers can just go out there and throw any amount of pitches, but it’s not true.

“I mean, that kid is trained year-round. … She’s worked so hard every day to prepare for a moment like this.

“If you don’t think it’s a wear on her physically, you’re wrong. It is,” Lotief added. “But she’s prepared for that, and she’s a mentally tough kid. At some point she’s gonna wear out, but until that happens we’re just gonna keep riding her.”

Wallace, hoping to help get UL back into the Super Regional round where its 2012 season ended and eventually to the Women’s College World Series, suggested she is willing to go as long as needed today.

“I’m ready,” she said with confidence when asked about the prospect of pitching her third game in three straight days today.

“This is what we prepare for all season, so I’m looking forward to it.”

The Cajun pitcher seemed to have only slightly less assuredness in her voice, and on her face, when questioned if she could throw a fourth game in three days should that wind up being needed this afternoon.

“Mostly definitely,” Wallace said.