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Softball: UL’s spring fever

UL teammate Meagan Thomas, left, celebrates the Cajuns' NCAA Regional victory with MVP Jordan Wallace on Sunday at LSU's Tiger Park in Baton Rouge. 
UL teammate Meagan Thomas, left, celebrates the Cajuns’ NCAA Regional victory with MVP Jordan Wallace on Sunday at LSU’s Tiger Park in Baton Rouge. / Leslie Westbrook/lwestbrook@theadvertiser.com

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, May 20, 2013

It was certainly a game situation … perhaps even a season situation.

UL’s ace right-hander Jordan Wallace had two shutouts under her belt already in the Baton Rouge Regional, but her work wasn’t done.

In this third game, she had thrown six more shutout innings, but the Cajuns’ ticket to the Super Regional had not yet been punched.

Suddenly, LSU had loaded the bases with one out and and its top hitter was approaching the plate in Bianka Bell.

Instead of it resulting in big trouble, however, the calm, cool sophomore got Bell to pop out on the first pitch and then struck out the next batter to sew up her third straight NCAA Regional shutout and push the Ragin’ Cajuns to another Super Regional berth.

“Throughout the weekend, that was a good matchup for us,” UL coach Michael Lotief said. “Bell is their best player. She’s the heart and soul of their offense. She (Bell) did exactly what I’d want my hitter to do in that situation – go for it. Jordan just made the pitch. What did she miss it by? A half-inch. That’s the difference.”

That was just the last in a long line of heroic moments for Wallace in this past weekend’s NCAA Regional triumph for the Cajuns.

Now Wallace and the 46-13 Cajuns shift their focus to traveling to meet Michigan on Friday and Saturday in the Super Regional.

“You just stay in a competitive mindset,” Wallace said. “You always play pitch-by-pitch. You stay in this pitch.

“Sure, there were a lot of eyes on me, but without my team behind me, I wouldn’t be able to be as successful. Without Nerissa (Myers) behind me telling me to just spin it, because they’ve got my back, I couldn’t do it.”

While Wallace was humble as always, her coach wasn’t limited in his praise of what the Weatherford, Texas native did for the program in Baton Rouge over the weekend.

First, there was all the pitches she threw … like every single one in shutout win over Northwestern State and LSU twice. That was 367 in all.

“I don’t think I can overstate that kid’s performance,” Lotief said. “It was phenomenal. I know everything she went through throughout the year and to see the game reward her, it just gave me chills.”

Then Lotief explained all the potential distractions that Wallace overcame en route to becoming the Baton Rouge Regional MVP – things the coach admitted he likely wouldn’t be able to overlook in Wallace’s position.

“They tried everything,” said Lotief, who explained how everyone wearing purple ranging from the dedicated LSU fans to the players to the LSU coaches yelled at her in an attempt to get Wallace off her game.

“If I put myself in that position, I don’t know that I could have performed in that situation like that kid did,” Lotief said.

“From the fans to the coach to the (tiny strike) zone to the circumstances, they threw everything at her. And then the game threw her one final (bases-loaded, one-out situation in the seventh), and she didn’t blink. She just threw the perfect pitch with the perfect spin.”

Now the Cajuns must turn the page on a third consecutive Regional title in Baton Rouge and now focus on a trip to Ann Arbor, ironically where the program’s first big success in the world of Division I softball began.

Way back in 1993, after three seasons of losing in NCAA Regional play in Lafayette, UL was sent to Ann Arbor and delivered wins of 7-3 over Bowling Green and 6-5 and 2-1 over host Michigan. For the record, that led to the program’s first College World Series trip in which the Cajuns finished third thanks to wins over Cal State-Northridge and Connecticut and Arizona (also lost 2-1 to Arizona in 10 innings), before being eliminated 1-0 by Lisa Fernandez and UCLA.

“It’s going to be a war,” Lotief said. “It’s not going to matter who wins the first game. It’s not going to matter who scores first. It’s going to be a lot like Arizona State last year.”

Lotief said the two programs have the ultimate respect for one another, suggesting that there won’t be any overlooking of the opposition in this showdown.

“That program understands what it takes to get to the World Series,” Lotief said, “and so do we.”