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Softball: Kirchberg pitches no-hitter

Softball: Kirchberg pitches no-hitter

Softball: Kirchberg pitches no-hitter

Dan McDonald
dmcdonald@theadvertiser.com

The first game was a nail-biter, so Ashley Kirchberg and the heart of the University of Louisiana softball lineup were taking no chances in the nightcap Saturday afternoon.
Kirchberg fired a no-hitter, the first of her collegiate career, at North Texas and Danyele Gomez, Lacey Bertucci and Ashley Evans all had home runs as the Cajuns rolled to a 5-0 victory in the second game of their Sun Belt Conference series. UL had taken a 2-0 victory in the opening game at UNT’s Denia Park in Denton, Texas.

The two wins – UL’s first shutouts in nine games and their first twinbill blanking since March 31 – put the 13th-ranked Cajuns (38-8, 6-2) into first place in the Sun Belt standings heading into today’s noon finale of the three-game series.

Kirchberg (17-1) came within one pitch of a perfect game, with the only North Texas baserunner reaching when Cajun shortstop Codi Runyan mishandled leadoff hitter Katya Muller’s slap ground ball leading off the fourth. Kirchberg retired the final 12 batters in order and finished with five strikeouts in her 11th shutout of the season.
"She kept their batters off balance," said Cajun coach Stefni Lotief. "She and Krystal (Lewallen) both had a good game plan against their hitters, and Ashley got ahead in the count and went right at them. We had a good game plan, and both of them got some awesome defensive plays behind them."

Kirchberg got all the offensive help she needed in the third inning of the nightcap when Brittany Bryant walked, Gomez doubled in the gap in left center and Evans cranked her 16th homer of the year to left center for a 3-0 lead off UNT starter Anne Morton (0-1).

Two innings later, Gomez and Bertucci had back-to-back homers off reliever Jessica Smith, Gomez’ to straightaway center and Bertucci lacing her 18th of the year to right field.

Gomez, who provided some breathing room in the opener with a seventh-inning solo shot, finished the day with three extra-base hits and scored three times. Her two homers boosts her school-record totals to 24 this year, adding to her national lead, and 77 in her career.

The second-game home run also moved her into fifth place on the NCAA’s all-time career list, ahead of Arizona’s Jenny Dalton (76), and came at a deeper park than most collegiate fields.

"We played on a 225-foot fence all the way around," Lotief said, "and you don’t see that much. That makes defense more of a premium, and we had some big defensive plays today. Ashley made a big catch in right field and Lacey had a line-drive catch to end the first game, and we had a lot of plays like that."

Lewallen (21-6) struck out eight batters and scattered five hits in the her eighth shutout of the year, but two of the hits came in the bottom of the seventh inning when North Texas (18-29, 1-7) staged its best rally of the day. Starting pitcher Kristina Fowler doubled to lead off the inning and Heather Bostic followed with a single to put the tying runs on base, but Lewallen forced a ground-ball out and a popup before Bertucci snared Sarah Jones’ liner to end the game.

The Cajuns struggled to get anything going against Fowler (15-15) until the fifth when Runyan had a leadoff single and Jessica Lemoine walked. Karli Hubbard’s slap grounder was fielded by Fowler, but her throw to third base to force Runyan skipped away from UNT third baseman Susan Waters and Runyan came in to score.

Gomez then led off the seventh inning with a deep homer to left field to provide the breathing room that the Cajuns needed to hold off UNT’s bottom-seventh rally.

"Two shutouts means you’re playing pretty good defense," Lotief said.

LAGNIAPPE: Lewallen’s eight strikeouts in the opener were her high in Sun Belt play, and she also picked up her 100th career victory. She had 79 at Northern Kentucky before transferring to UL … The Cajuns moved into first place in the league when Florida International (5-3) split a Saturday twinbill with Western Kentucky … UL leads UNT 9-0 in all-time Sun Belt play and 16-1 overall.

Originally published April 23, 2006