Facing the defending national champions? Not a problem for UL’s softball team.
Traveling two time zones to play in the NCAA’s Super Regionals? No big deal.
Getting its potent offense going against one of the nation’s best pitchers? Just another day at the office.
If anyone still thought the Ragin’ Cajuns didn’t belong on a national stage, Jordan Wallace and the Cajun bats made those thoughts look silly Thursday night.
It wasn’t just that UL took a 6-0 victory over Arizona State in the first game of the best-of-three series that will determine a berth in next week’s Women’s College World Series. It was the manner in which the Cajuns controlled the third-ranked Sun Devils from start to finish that was more impressive than the final score.
“I’m proud of my kids,” said Cajun co-head coach Michael Lotief in a post-game press conference. “I thought they played free and loose and easy. They trusted each other.”
Wallace solidified her status as the nation’s best freshman pitcher by allowing two hits and only three base runners to ASU (49-9). She didn’t allow a single runner past second base, faced three over the minimum batters, never allowed more than one runner in a single inning and did it all on only 71 pitches (ASU losing hurler Dallas Escobedo threw 108 pitches before being relieved in the seventh inning). After going to a three-ball count on ASU’s first two hitters, Wallace had only two three-ball counts the rest of the game, and six times she recorded outs on the first pitch to an ASU hitter.
“If they want to swing at the first pitch, go for it,” Wallace said in the post-game press conference. “I just trusted my defense and got to the point where I could spin the ball and let my defense work for me.”
Wallace’s mates played errorless defense, and the offense collected 12 hits off Escobedo – the co-MVP in last year’s World Series and the winner in last year’s title game. The biggest of those were the back-to-back home runs by Paige Cormier and Sarah Draheim to lead off the fourth inning, but the Cajuns kept hitting and turned the game into a rout with three seventh-inning runs on four hits.
And with every hit, the crack in ASU’s aura of home-field invincibility – the Sun Devils were 40-3 at home this year and coach Clint Myers was 23-2 in NCAA play at Farrington Stadium – became bigger. By the time it was over, the 9-2 whipping the Cajuns handed ASU back on March 15 in the Judi Garman Classic in California looked more like a preview than an aberration. In March, Wallace checked ASU on only five hits.
“We’re a much better hitting team than you saw,” Myers said. “But these girls know what they have to do. We have to hit better, we have to pitch better, we have to play better. We have to go out and be the team we know that we are, and which we weren’t (on Thursday).”
Indeed, the Sun Devils didn’t look like a national three seed Thursday. Instead of the Cajuns being star-struck by facing a team seeded 11 spots higher, and on national television, it was the hosts that had the deer-in-the-headlights look over the final few innings.
Cormier’s towering leadoff homer on a 1-2 pitch in the fourth could have been brushed off by an ASU team that ranks third nationally in scoring this year (the Cajuns lead the country in run production). But when Draheim followed two pitches later with a line-drive homer to the same spot, the concern was obvious in the ASU dugout.
Matte Haack’s sacrifice fly plated Nerissa Myers with a third run one inning later to put most of the announced 1,663 crowd into full worry mode, especially the way Wallace was coasting. The three insurance runs in the seventh, two of them on Brianna Cherry’s two-out single that chased Escobedo, let Wallace relax and record her fourth three-up, three-down inning in the seventh to improve to 27-1.
The Super Regional’s obviously not over, even though UL is in the driver’s seat going into Friday’s final day and the 8 p.m. (CDT) game two (ESPNU will televise). If ASU wins, the teams will play a third and final game immediately after, starting at approximately 10:30 p.m. (also on ESPNU). But ASU didn’t sweep a doubleheader all year, and the Cajuns never lost a doubleheader … in fact, they never lost more than one in a row all season.
The numbers are on UL’s side. All the Cajuns have to do is keep doing what they did Thursday, and then they can laugh at the NCAA selection committee’s decision to make them a No. 14 seed. They can laugh all the way to Oklahoma City.