The Ragin’ Cajuns hadn’t seen softballs coming off opposing bats and flying over fences so often in recent memory. Before Friday’s final two games against Arizona State in the NCAA Super Regionals, it had been the Cajuns putting the long-ball beatdown on opposing pitchers for the entire 2012 season.
All year, UL’s one-two pitching combination of Ashley Brignac and Jordan Wallace had allowed a total of only 34 home runs in 57 games. On Friday, the host Sun Devils hit eight – four in each game – and it seemed like more as ASU rolled to 9-2 and 8-0 wins and punched a ticket to next week’s Women’s College World Series.
The Cajuns, meanwhile, were left to wonder at how much can change in a 24-hour period. The euphoria of Thursday’s dominant 6-0 victory over third-ranked ASU was gone not long after Devil catcher Amber Freeman laced a first-inning shot to left field that plate umpire Emeris Addison viewed as hooking around the foul pole for a home run. If it was fair, it hooked more than Bubba Watson’s wedge at the Masters, but it was 2-0 before the Cajuns got to swing and it never got any closer.
Unfortunately for the visitors, the other seven homers were unquestionably long gone.
Brignac gave up four homers in that first game, two during a five-run third-inning uprising that made the “if necessary” game necessary. In the late contest, that started at almost 11:30 p.m. Lafayette time, Wallace – who had dazzled ASU with a two-hit shutout on Thursday – also was touched for four home runs.
It didn’t help that UL’s bats struggled. After manufacturing single runs twice in the opening game, the Cajuns were shut out by ASU pitcher Dallas Escobedo in the nightcap – the first shutout the Cajuns suffered all season. Prior to Friday’s second game, Escobedo – the co-MVP in last year’s World Series after pitching ASU to the national title – had allowed 15 runs in two outings against UL this year.
“Dallas put the nail in the coffin,” said ASU coach Clint Myers. “But if you look through the lineup there was success one through nine. This was a great team win, and Dallas was phenomenal.”
“Congratulations to Arizona State and Coach Myers,” said UL co-head coach Michael Lotief. “I thought their team came out and played tonight with a lot of competitive fire. They are going to be a worthy representative of this region in the World Series.”
The Cajuns were seeded 14th entering the NCAA Tournament, a seeding that many questioned after UL’s performance in the regionals and in Thursday’s opening game. Even after Friday’s disappointing showing, the questions were still being asked, but Lotief refused to blame pairings for his team’s coming up short of its World Series goal.
“I think the NCAA does a great job with the pairings,” he said. “As college softball evolves there is no easy matchup. After this weekend, a lot of good teams are going home, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Sometimes the matchups go your way and sometimes not. They (ASU) are the better team and deserve to go.”
Myers had no such public compliments for the Cajuns during the Super Regional (apparently, that’s not his style), but then again UL didn’t do much to earn compliments on Friday after Thursday’s opening win. In the nightcap, the nation’s leading offensive team was limited to five singles, four of them in the infield and three from leadoff hitter Katie Smith. Smith, one of seven seniors who finished their careers, ended her NCAA Tournament with a 14-of-23 hitting effort including last week’s Regionals at Lamson Park.
“Obviously it’s bittersweet,” Lotief said, “but eventually in this business you understand it starts out with about 400 teams and then you end up with 16 here. I really do think we are one of the best teams in the country.”
The Cajun fans know they are, even though they didn’t show it on the final day of the season.