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Softball: Can Cajuns rebound from such agony?

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, May 22, 2015



Auburn’s Haley Fagan (2) signals “safe” to the umpire as she scores the game-winning run in Friday’s 12-11 win over the UL Ragin’ Cajuns.(Photo: Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)


There’s almost no way to accurately describe UL’s gut-wrenching 12-11 loss to Auburn on Friday in the first game of the best-of-three Super Regional.

The No. 11-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns led 10-5 with two outs and two runners on in the bottom of the seventh against No. 4-ranked Auburn.

At that point, there’s not very many ways to see such a game slip away, but it did

What followed not only defied the odds, but will be in the minds – and likely the nightmares for many – of all who witnessed it.

Six straight walks followed. It was a merry-go-round of horrors.

Suddenly, this game that seemed over in UL’s favor for all intents and purpose was now tied and headed for extra innings.

So many things go through your head during such a bizarre reversal of fortune.

From now on, I kind of think that every time a baseball or softball coach makes a comment like, "You can’t walk that many batters on the road against a good team and expect to win," my mind is going to drift back to this game.

The final total was 16 walks issued by UL pitching in 7.1 innings. Amazingly, the Cajuns very easily could have won walking, 13, 14 even 15 batters against such a powerful lineup on the road.

For that matter, they could have won walking 16. Simply incredible.

Prior to two outs in the bottom of the seventh, as uncomfortable as it may have seemed as Jordan Wallace began walking batter after batter and somehow getting out of bases-loaded jams inning after inning, I began to wonder about the third inning if indeed all those walks were actually hurting Auburn.

Sure, they were getting a lot of free baserunners, but we weren’t seeing a bunch of powerful swings from his explosive arsenal we had heard so much about. Nothing like the swings we were seeing from the Cajuns’ hitters at the time.

Somehow all the patience it took to draw that many walks was seemingly curbing their aggressiveness. And sure enough, if you heard ESPN’s mid-game interview with Auburn coach Clint Myers, he was complaining about his big hitters taking too many close pitches.

Indeed, it was basically working out that way until concern reached over into the absurd with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.

Speaking of things coaches say, how about, "You can’t expect to beat a good team when you strand 20 baserunners."

Like the previous example, it sounds logical, but that’s exactly what Auburn did. Folks, we may never seen another game like that ever again.

UL coach Michael Lotief warned the media in Monday’s press conference that the Tigers are a come-from-behind team that never feels like they’re out of a game.

As we surveyed their impressive statistics, that statement made a lot of sense. But somehow, what came into my mind as Lotief made that claim wasn’t what we witnessed Friday afternoon.

Amazingly, I’m not sure I fear Auburn’s bats after the Cajuns gave up 12 runs to that lineup as much as I did prior to Friday’s game. That’s how peculiar of a game it was.

Nevertheless, perhaps it’s a small indication of Saturday, but somehow even after that agonizing seventh-inning meltdown, there Haley Hayden was leading off the top of the eighth with a double and she actually scored the go-ahead run for a 11-10 lead.

That kind of getting-off-the-deck effort is going to be needed Saturday in a big way.

The Tigers, however, would answer with two runs in the bottom of the eighth for the win.

Wallace ended up throwing 208 pitches in the game – only 102 for strikes.

As her pitch count approached 200, I was concerned that the Cajuns were potentially in trouble for Saturday even if they had won. If Hamilton pitched to her potential in game two, UL would be dancing. If not, how effective could Wallace be expected to be after such an exhaustingly heartbreaking performance?

We may find out at some point Saturday if Wallace is available again. If not, Hamilton will at least be able to enter with a clean slate as a starter, and truthfully Alex Stewart did fine in her extremely small sample size Friday.

Don’t forget that it was Stewart that bailed out the Cajuns in late March at Texas State with her best pitching stretch of the season after suffering a crazy 14-13 road loss. Perhaps she’ll get another chance Saturday.

Many are understandably questioning Wallace throwing that many pitches and being allowed to walk 13 batters in 6.2 innings. But riding a senior ace with a five-run lead in softball isn’t as unusual as it would be in baseball.

It was certainly excruciating to watch, but I’m sure he kept waiting for the odds to take over with two outs and a five-run lead. Unfortunately for the Cajuns, they never did.

And as tough as it was for Cajun fans to watch the walk-fest, it was even tougher for them to see a run forced in because of two "illegal" tosses to the third baseman while waiting for a TV timeout to end.

Talk about a cheesy way to give up a run in the bottom of the seventh. As a certain Brewers pitcher would say, perhaps somebody needs to get a big speedy ticket for going 56 in a 55 sometimes soon.

The other concern is UL’s defense. I thought that was one of the team’s strengths throughout the regular season, but it showed cracks during the NCAA Regional and made two more errors Friday.

The other real shame of Friday’s loss is that first baseman Kelsey Vincent wasn’t able to truly relish her great performance at the plate with two home runs.

In fact, the Cajuns’ lineup as a whole performed beautifully.

One just has to wonder how much Friday’s loss took out of this squad. I have no doubt this team will continue to ‘Fight like Mike,’ but not all losses are created equal.

If the Cajuns rebound from Friday’s setback and advance to Oklahoma City, this group will prove to be more special than anyone could rightfully imagine.