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Softball: Kirchberg gives her all

Cajuns fall despite senior’s tireless performance

Dan McDonald
dmcdonald@theadvertiser.com

BATON ROUGE – After pitching 27 innings in less than 48 hours, all Ashley Kirchberg could do was watch Vanessa Soto’s fly ball.
Under other circumstances, it was a lazy, easy out, one that she had induced and had nestled into left fielder Danyele Gomez’ glove scores of times … one like so many others that had helped Kirchberg go 25-1 in the regular season for the University of Louisiana softball team.

This one, though, came with one out in the seventh inning of the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional championship game, and was plenty deep enough to score LSU right fielder Quinlan Duhon from third base.

When the St. Thomas More product scampered home, well ahead of a desperation throw from left field, the host Tigers had a 5-4 victory and a berth in next weekend’s NCAA Super Regional.
All Kirchberg had was a tired arm, and little else left. Raising her arm past waist-high for the ritual post-game handslaps was an effort unto itself.

“Give her a lot of credit,” said Tiger ace fireballer Emily Turner, her long right arm a mass of ice bags. “It was tough in those weather conditions. She did an awesome job.”

Turner, who dazzled the SEC on the way to a microscopic 0.69 ERA, had thrown 10 innings in Saturday’s emotion-packed 7-6 Tiger victory over the Cajuns. The weariness showed on her, too … she’d allowed 11 home runs all season, and gave up two to Gomez and Ashley Evans in a four-inning span Sunday.

But compared to Kirchberg, Turner’s weekend was a walk in the park.

The senior from Houston threw five innings in relief Saturday in the loss to LSU, giving up only three hits.

She turned around 40 minutes later and tossed nine pressure-packed innings in a comeback 4-3 elimination-game win over North Carolina State that put the Cajuns into their 12th Championship Sunday in 16 NCAA appearances.

Friday? A two-hit shutout and a 2-0 win over the higher-seeded Wolfpack that put UL into Saturday’s much-anticipated battle with the Tigers.

“We work on waiting to get a pitch we can handle,” said Tiger coach Yvette Girouard, “laying off outside pitches. But she was pretty much working ahead (in the count), so I don’t know if we could have made her throw any more.”

The cumulative effect of Kirchberg’s 433 regional pitches might have taken just a bit of zip and a bit of rise off one pitch in Sunday’s fifth inning – one that LSU All-American outfielder Leslie Klein tomahawked over the right-center field wall for a three-run homer that turned a 3-1 Cajun lead to a 4-3 Tiger advantage.

“We knew there was some fatigue,” said Cajun coach Stefni Lotief, “but she was still spinning the ball well. With the exception of a couple of pitches, she threw a superb game. She had an excellent plan and followed it … we can’t ask any more.”

Klein’s momentum-changing shot covered Evans’ 21st of the season, a second-inning solo shot that tied the game at one, and Gomez’ landmark 30th that came in the fifth inning after Jessica Lemoine’s leadoff walk. Gomez became the third player in NCAA history to record a 30-homer season, and the two gave UL 102 team homers this year, the fifth-most in NCAA history.

The bottom of the Cajun lineup rallied with three singles off Turner in the sixth, with Karli Hubbard’s two-out single plating pinch runner Kelsey Cammarata with the tying run. However, Kirchberg hit Duhon and walked Comeaux product Lauren Castle to start the seventh, and a sacrifice bunt and an intentional pass to Klein to load the bases set up Soto’s winning fly ball.

“We wouldn’t have liked to start the seventh like that,” Lotief said. “She (Kirchberg) was having a hard time establishing location of the zone. But she was battling … she did the best she could.”

Originally published May 22, 2006