That’s why so many Cajun staffers and fans had big grins on their faces Friday, when the renovated and expanded Lamson Park hosted day one of its NCAA Regional Tournament play.
Many of those smiles, obviously, were due to UL’s workmanlike 8-0 dispatching of heavy-underdog Mississippi Valley State in the Cajuns’ opening game. But many – players, coaches and fans alike – were happy that for the first time since 2002, UL didn’t have to go on the road to begin its quest to reach the Women’s College World Series.
And a select few – notably, the Cajun athletic staff – were smiling most of all after their weeks of planning bore fruit in a first day that went off without a hitch. The Cajuns’ game drew 2,628, a park record, and there were no major logistical problems … an accomplishment, considering the NCAA and its on-site staffers are micro-managers when it comes to their events.
“The Cajun nation was out in full force,” said Cajun co-head coach Stefni Lotief. “It was good to see a sea of red out there.”
The Cajun staff even pulled off the task of clearing the stands after Friday’s first game and getting the stadium ready to re-open minutes later for the record crowd to come in a half-hour later. For the most part, they also did it while still showing the Cajun hospitality that we that are from here take for granted.
“We don’t get treated this well most places,” said umpire Laura Nesterak before the event started, referring to the small touches – snacks and other amenities, and an attendant to take care of their needs -- that made the crew’s first day more enjoyable.
For most folks at Lamson Park, though, the most important thing was the host team’s outcome, and even though the Cajuns were heavily favored, the Delta Devilettes kept the game scoreless until the third inning when Nerissa Myers’ well-placed double over the third-base bag scored speed-demon Natalie Fernandez with the game’s first run. Brianna Cherry added a sacrifice fly later in that inning, and two innings later home runs by Matte Haack and Paige Cormier broke the game open.
Senior pitcher Ashley Brignac didn’t need that much offense as she sat down 18 of the 20 Valley hitters she faced. After a ground-ball single in the first inning and a walk in the second, she retired the last 13 batters she faced, and didn’t have to go out to pitch the seventh when Cormier’s RBI single plated Cherry for the run-rule win in the sixth.
Things figure to be much tougher against second-seeded Stanford on Saturday. The Cardinal knocked off Baylor in an old-fashioned 1-0 game to open the tournament, and the winner of Saturday’s 1 p.m. UL-Stanford game takes a big advantage into championship Sunday and needs only one win to advance to the Super Regionals.