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Softball: Stewart fixes pitch problem, beats Texas

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 21, 2016



Alex Stewart allowed just eight hits in 7.0 innings as UL beat Texas 9-1 in Saturday’s NCAA Regional game.(Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)


She had all sorts of trouble with illegal pitches in last week’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament, prompting Ragin’ Cajuns coach Michael Lotief to turn to infrequently used Macey Smith for a title-game win over Texas State.

Smith, who no-hit the Bobcats, and Victoria Brown combined in No. 9 UL’s opening NCAA Lafayette Regional win over Boston University on Friday.

But when ace Alex Stewart was called on to work the Cajuns’ winner’s-bracket game against No. 25 Texas on Saturday at Lamson Park, the only issue was whether or not she could hold on for a shutout.

Stewart did not, yielding a two-out solo home run in the seventh inning by Lindsey Stephens in a 9-1 win to advance UL to Sunday play at 2-0 — and a 3:30 p.m. meeting with No. 16 Texas A&M — in the double-elimination tourney.

But the Cajuns junior from Indiana was dialed in throughout, allowing just eight hits and enjoying one stretch from the second through the fifth innings in which 29 of her 35 pitches were thrown for strikes.

“Against those kind of hitters,” Lotief said of the Longhorns, “that’s incredible.”

From the perspective of both Stewart and Cajuns left fielder Shellie Landry, pitching and defense were intricately tied Saturday.

“It was just attacking the zone, and trusting the defense behind me, pitching to contact,” said Stewart, who struck out three and issued no walks. “I have a great defense behind me. I know that they have my back.”

“We’re just as confident in her as she is in us,” added Landry, who was 3-for-5 with three RBIs including a key two-run homer in the third inning. “So we just have a circle of safety knowing that she’s gonna get the job done, as well as we will.”

Stewart said she found out when lineups were being announced Friday that she was not pitching against Boston University.

Lotief, however, said he had decided on Wednesday to save her for Saturday.

Preparation for the Longhorns, however, started even before UL knew who would be coming to Lafayette.

It began with trying to overcome the illegal pitch matter.

“She showed up Monday and went to work,” he said. “Really, we started watching video Sunday. We started addressing the issue Sunday, even before the (NCAA Tournament) selection show.”

Stewart was called for an illegal pitch only a couple of times Saturday, but seemed to have mostly overcome the problem with her drag leg coming off the ground during her delivery.

“It’s a good kid, man. You know, most people can’t handle that,” Lotief said. “They can’t handle the mechanical adjustment.

“Most athletes just want to not think about mechanics,” added the Cajun coach, who thinking strategically in the double-elimination tourney, did not immediately commit as to who will start for UL on Sunday afternoon. “They don’t want to think about game plans. They just want to come out and throw.”

Lotief said Stewart instead “conceptualized” what she needed to do over the week, then went out and did it.

The fixes, in other words, were made more in her mind during the week than were transferred to the circle Saturday.

“We couldn’t put a burn on her arm,” Lotief said, “because she had to rest for this weekend.

“So it’s not like she was gonna throw a million pitches. So she had to make the adjustment intellectually, and be here (Saturday) and trust it.”

Stewart did just that.

“It’s a good feeling moving forward,” said Stewart, who threw just 81 pitches Saturday compared to the 152 of Texas’ Tiarra Davis.

“Alex is a phenomenal pitcher. She has a great mindset, and she has good stuff,” Landry added. “They hit a home run, but it doesn’t matter. She’s attacking, regardless of if they’re getting hits or not.”