Softball: Cajuns reach Sun Belt finals, but it takes two games to do it
Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, May 10, 2014
There was a time when Samantha Walsh wasn’t the most confident hitter at the plate in clutch situations.
But that’s starting to get look like an awful long time ago.
With two walk-off home runs in recent weeks still vivid in her memory, Walsh stepped to the plate in the top of the sixth innings with the score tied at 5-5 and two outs.
The No. 12-ranked UL Ragin’ Cajuns already lost to South Alabama 4-2 in eight innings earlier in the day and pesky UL Monroe didn’t seem to want to go away.
The air went straight out of the Warhawks’ balloon, however, when Walsh smashed a grand slam to left to ignite an eight-run stretch over UL’s final two at-bats in securing a 14-6 win over UL Monroe on Friday at Lamson Park.
UL softball player Samantha Walsh and head coach Mike Lotief talk about the Ragin’ Cajuns loss to South Alabama and win over ULM. Chad Washington, The Advertiser
"Coach Mike (Lotief) has got me in a really good mindset right now," said Walsh, who was 3-for-9 with five RBIs on the day. "I’m staying with the process and it’s finally showing."
Walsh and the Cajuns will play South Alabama again in the championship game at 3 p.m. Saturday for the Sun Belt Championship.
Walsh said the Cajuns didn’t have any difficulty having to play ULM after the USA loss and will be ready to play another game on Saturday.
"That’s not a problem," she said.
"Each game is different. We don’t carry one game into the next one."
The Cajuns (42-8-1) took advantage of some ULM wildness in the second inning when four walks chased across two Cajun runs for a 2-0 lead, but then UL starter Victoria Brown stumbled a bit in the bottom of the second.
A bunt and then a "miscommunication" on another tapper opened the door for a big Warhawk inning and an RBI single by Courtney Dutreix set up a three-run homer by Miyuki Navarette for a five-run ULM inning.
"We took care of that (miscommunication that led to throwing late to second) after the inning," said Brown, who then settled down to four straight shutout innings and five the Cajun bats a chance to awaken after struggling a bit against USA starter Hannah Campbell.
"You have to move on (to next inning)," Brown said. "I knew my teammates would have my back with their bats."
First came a Shelbi Redfearn triple and sacrifice fly by Sarah Corbello to cut it to 5-3. Redfearn was 5-for-9 in the two games.
Then in the fourth, Haley Hayden doubled with two outs and Lexie Elkins hit an 0-2 pitch over the seats in left to tie it at 5-5.
"It’s also good to see a long ball like that," Walsh said of Elkins’ long HR. "It helps you relax a little."
It stayed 5-5 until the decisive four-run sixth inning for the Cajuns that blew things open. Ironically, that four-run inning began with controversy that didn’t go UL’s way. Meagan Thomas began with a walk and Kendall Smith’s bunt was initially ruled to have been safe, but the second base umpire overruled, saying that it hit Smith in fair territory.
After numerous meetings, the overrule stood. Smith was out and Thomas returned to first. Walks to Natalie Fernandez and Elkins later set up Walsh’s grand slam, but Lotief wasn’t entirely satisfied.
The Cajuns’ coach cited incidents in the Sun Belt Tournament the last two seasons – one where Katie Smith was called out for leaving third early and then last year when Sarah Draheim was ruled out for missing first base on a double in a 0-0 game.
Add Friday’s bunt with Katie’s younger sister, Kendall, and that was too much in Lotief’s mind.
"All three were out of position (to make the call)," Lotief said.
He went on.
"To me, there’s too much gamemanship in these games and there’s too much (gamemanship) affecting the people making the calls," Lotief said.
Fernandez wrapped up the 10-hit attack with a three-run triple, her second extra-base hit of the season.
USA 4, UL 2 (8)
Before the three-hour slugfest with ULM, the Cajuns lost a close 4-2 decision in eight innings with No. 2-seeded South Alabama.
The loss snapped UL’s 13-game winning streak, as well as Christina Hamilton’s personal 20-game winning streak.
UL led 1-0 on a passed ball with the bases loaded in the second inning all the way until the top of the seventh when Amanda Minahan hit a two-run home run with one out for the lead.
The Cajuns seemingly would get another walk-off hit in their seventh, though. Singles by Hayden and Elkins preceded Walsh’s RBI single to tie it. Shellie Landry then came within inches of another game-winner, but her single up the middle was knocked down by Taylor Rodgers to keep them loaded with no outs.
Somehow Campbell stranded all three UL baserunners to force extra innings, where Blair Johnson hit a two-out, two-run homer for the game-winner.
Hamilton only gave up six hit and one walk, but suffered the loss. Campbell yielded 12 hits but stranded 13 baserunners.
"I’ve been saying it all year long, championship softball isn’t 14-9, it’s 1-0, like it was against LSU in the regional last year and like it was against Michigan in the Super Regional," Lotief said. "In games like that, one bad spin in the wrong spot and you’re going to your house.
"Christina and Victoria both did some good things and both did some not-so-good things."
Lotief said no decision had been made during Friday’s postgame for UL’s starting pitcher, but he admitted he was considering Jordan Wallace.
UL vs. USA
Game: 3 p.m., Saturday, Lamson Park.
Radio: KPEL 1420 AM.
Records: USA 40-11, UL 43-8-1.
Season Series: 2-2.