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Softball: Ragin’ Cajuns Secure Fifth Straight Super Regional Trip

LAFAYETTE – Late-inning home runs from DJ Sanders and Aleah Craighton vaulted No. 9-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns Softball to a 9-8 (9 inn.) win over Texas A&M in the NCAA Softball Lafayette Regional championship game and a fifth consecutive NCAA Super Regional appearance in front a crowd of 2,130 at Lamson Park on Sunday afternoon.
Trailing 8-6 and down to the final two outs in the seventh inning, Sanders launched a two-run home run to straightaway center pulling the Ragin’ Cajuns (46-7) into a tie that forged extra innings.
After a scoreless eighth inning, Craighton led off the ninth inning with a solo home run that lifted the Ragin’ Cajuns into a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
After falling behind 8-6 in the fifth inning, Alex Stewart would shutout the Aggies (39-20) in their final four at bats to secure victory which landed the Ragin’ Cajuns the programs 11th NCAA Regional championship, overall, and fifth straight.
No. 9 Louisiana will travel to Norman, Okla. this week to compete in the NCAA Super Regional round against national No. 3 seed Oklahoma (50-7). The Ragin’ Cajuns and Sooners will meet Thursday, May 26 and Friday, May 27 at Marita Hynes Field in Norman, Okla., with all three games on the ESPN family of networks.
"This is something we’ve been working towards since August," Ragin’ Cajuns Softball head coach Michael Lotief said. "We had a bitter disappointment last year at Auburn, and we got to taste what it was like to be on the other side and come up short.
"We never play perfect softball." Lotief added. "But this team has the right mindset and they have pure hearts. Today, the ball bounced our way and we’re thankful to our fans, our University and our community for their support."
The Ragin’ Cajuns utilized a 16-hit attack to outlast the visiting Aggies who produced 13 hits of their own. It was the team’s second straight day with double digit hits and increased the three-day total to 38 with a .376 average.
Sanders was the lead catalyst finishing 4-for-5 at the plate with her first career NCAA postseason home run and a game-high tying three RBI. The four hits represented a new career-high total for the Columbus, Miss., product and upped her NCAA Lafayette Regional total to a team-high six (6-for-11).
Craighton’s home run was Louisiana’s fourth and final one of the contest as the squad picked up its 29th game of multiple home runs this season and reached four in a game for the ninth time.
Stewart struck out 10, one shy of her career-high total, and improved to 29-4 (15-0 at Lamson Park) on the season. The 2016 Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year scattered three hits over the final four innings and faced the minimum in extra innings keyed by executing a double play in the eight inning.
For the third straight game, the Ragin’ Cajuns struck in their first at bat getting a home run from Lexie Elkins. A double play turned by the Aggies in the previous at bat to Shellie Landry limited Elkins’ line drive shot to a solo home run.
The Aggies drew even at 1-1 in the bottom of the first inning when Ashley Walters lifted a two-out RBI double near the top of the center field wall out of Craighton’s reach.
The Aggies broke the tie in the second inning after Cali Lanphear doubled to lead off the frame and later scored on a RBI single from Riley Sartain.
The Ragin’ Cajuns responded in their next at bat, plating four runs – all with two outs to lay claim to a 5-2 advantage. Elkins singled with one out and Kelsey Vincent drew a six-pitch walk to set the stage for the rally.
Craighton lifted a deep fly ball to center field to move pinch runner Meagan Thomas and Vincent to second and third, respectively. Sanders drove a pitch into right field to plate Thomas and even the score. Sara Corbello followed with a towering three-run home run into the first row of the left field bleachers.
The Ragin’ Cajuns picked up a fifth unanswered run and saw their lead increased to 6-2 on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly from Vincent in the fourth inning.
Texas A&M countered with a two-out rally of their own, and erased the deficit for a second time in the game, with four runs in the bottom half of the fourth. The Aggies scored on a two-run homer by Kaitlyn Alderink and two-run single from Kristen Cuyos that occurred after a two-out error and double.
Aggies pitcher starting Samantha Show helped her own cause by leading off the bottom of the fifth with a solo home run to pull her team into a 7-6 lead. She protected the lead until Sanders’ home run in the seventh inning drew a tie for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
DIAMOND NOTES: Louisiana and Texas A&M met at Lamson Park for the first time since an April 1995 doubleheader…It was the first NCAA postseason meeting since the 2010 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional…The last time the two programs met in the NCAA postseason at Lamson Park was May 18, 1990 – the first-ever NCAA postseason contest the Ragin’ Cajuns hosted…The Ragin’ Cajuns victory broke a tie in the all-time series, giving Louisiana a 14-13 lead…Lexie Elkins‘ home run in the first inning was her first homer since March 25 at Troy and first since returning from her thumb injury last Thursday…Elkins picked up her 74th career home run, moving within two of reaching the NCAA’s all-time career Top 10 chart…That home run gave Louisiana at least one in 41 of 53 games this season and was Elkins’ team-leading third extra base hit of the regional…The Ragin’ Cajuns entered the day undefeated (38-0) when scoring the game’s first run and remained unblemished in the situation…When Texas A&M grabbed the lead in the second inning, it marked only the third time that the Ragin’ Cajuns trailed in a game after scoring first (Feb. 25 vs. Texas Tech; Apr. 9 at Georgia State)…Haley Hayden‘s leadoff single in the first inning stretched her current hitting streak to a season-best nine games and marked the 43rd time in 53 games she’s posted at least one base hit…Hayden finished 3-of-5 at the plate increasing her season hits total to 68 leaving her just three hits shy of her career-high total of 70 set as a freshman in 2014…Hayden picked up her 19th multiple-hit game of the season, reaching three hits for the sixth time…DJ Sanders posted multiple hits (4-for-5) for the second straight day…Sara Corbello‘s go-ahead home run in the third inning increased her career-high season total to 12 and marked her fourth career NCAA postseason home run (adding to solo home runs vs. Baylor in 2015 NCAA Regional, at Michigan in 2013 Super Regional and at LSU in 2013 NCAA Regional)…Corbello’s home run was the Cajuns’ second of the game providing the team with its 29th game of multiple home runs in the 53rd game of the season…Kelsey Vincent‘s sacrifice fly in the fourth inning landed her 50th RBI of the season, the first time in her career she reached the mark…Vincent became fourth Ragin’ Cajun to reach 50 RBI in 2016 joining DJ Sanders (58), Shellie Landry (57), and Aleah Craighton (55)… Louisiana, hosting an NCAA Regional at Lamson Park for the 12th time, improved to 25-13 at home in the regional round…Adding in a Super Regional win over Arizona in 2014, the Ragin’ Cajuns are 26-13 at Lamson Park in the NCAA Tournament…Since the start of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on May 12, covering a span of six games, the Ragin’ Cajuns are hitting .382 with 68 hits during the stretch featuring all nine starters with at least five hits.