ULL advances to Super Regional after knocking off LSU
BATON ROUGE — Jordan Wallace pitched out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the seventh inning to give Louisiana a 1-0 NCAA Regional Championship victory against LSU Sunday afternoon at Tiger Park.
Wallace surrendered four hits on the afternoon.
“I’ve (been) saying this all season: I’m so proud of these girls,” head coach Michael Lotief said. “They’ve worked so hard. … They believe in their dreams and they’ve overcome tremendous obstacles. When you get into some of these dogfights, a lot of it is luck. The game rewarded us and we understand that. LSU is a worthy opponent and that was a well-played college softball game.”
The victory sends Louisiana to play No. 8 Michigan in an NCAA Super Regional in Ann Arbor, Mich., this week. The best out of three series will begin Saturday with a noon contest.
Ann Arbor was the first stop in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s first-ever run to the Women’s College World Series in 1993.
This will be the second straight year Louisiana will make a Super Regional appearance, a feat they have never achieved.
“Congratulations to ULL,” LSU head coach Beth Torina said. “They have a quality team and a quality program. They did a really good job this weekend. They were tough for us. Obviously, this is not what we were expecting. This is not the type of softball that we’ve played all year. We should play better than we did this weekend. We’re a quality program, and I think that’s what matters. We’ll learn a lot from it, and we’ll get back to work. We have a fantastic team, and I have enjoyed every bit of this season. I love this team and how hard they fought.”
Wallace, who improved to 31-7 on the year, threw her third consecutive shutout in the LSU Regional, walking four and striking out four with a pair of hit batters. In three tourney games, she threw 21 scoreless innings, allowing just seven hits with 25 strikeouts.
“What she did today was phenomenal,” Lotief said. “She went through her share of struggles early in the season. The crowd was trying to intimidate her, the hitters made adjustments. As the game wore on, you could see she lost some velocity. I saw a lot of heart, will and fight. She is a warrior and a winner.”
The Cajuns scored the game’s only run in the first when Nerissa Myers led off with a line drive double off the top of the left field fence. She went to third on a fly ball to right field by Brianna Cherry and scored when Sarah Draheim hit a ground ball to short that went through the legs of Bianka Bell to make it a 1-0 game.
“It’s always a difference maker with a run on the board,” Myers said in the postgame press conference. “It helps Jordan (Wallace), but it also gives her a little cushion. Of course, we would have loved to score more than one run. With that run though, we know she can still go confidently in there and play her game. The ultimate goal is to make her feel as comfortable as possible.”
It was the team-leading 65th RBI of the season for Draheim and the 242nd run scored by Myers in her career, good for 20th place on the NCAA career chart. Myers was responsible for five of Louisiana’s seven runs in the tourney, scoring four with a pinch-runner plating the fifth.
The run also marked the third straight game the Ragin’ Cajuns scored in the first inning, grabbing leads that Wallace would not relinquish.
But unlike the 3-0 win against Northwestern State Friday or the 3-0 win against LSU Saturday, Wallace had some extra work to do.
Wallace retired the Tigers in order just once in the contest — in the third — while LSU left 10 runners on base and six in scoring position.
The Tigers had a pair of base runners in the first when Wallace walked Bell with two outs and Allison Falcon was hit by a pitch. Wallace got out of the inning by getting Sandra Simmons to pop out to second.
LSU also had runners on first and second with one out in the second when Tammy Wray was safe on an infield single and Lauren Houston was hit by a pitch. Wallace again bore down, striking out Simone Heyward and getting A.J. Andrews to pop out to second to end the inning.
The Tigers left a runner on third in the fifth, and it could have been much worse. Heyward led off with a walk, and one batter later, Jacee Blades appeared to have beaten out an infield single, only to be called out for hitting the ball outside of the batter’s box.
With Bell batting with two outs, a wild pitch by Wallace and a little deception by Bell allowed Heyward to go to third when Bell pretended to be hit by the wild pitch, causing Draheim to take her time in retrieving the errant pitch. Wallace again overcame it, getting Bell to fly to short to end the inning.
A two-out bloop double by Kellsi Kloss allowed the Tigers to threaten in the sixth, but Wallace induced Wray to pop out to short for the third out.
The seventh proved to be the biggest jam for the Cajuns as Heyward walked with one out and went to second on a single by Andrews. Blades was next, slapping a light bunt down the third base line that Natalie Fernandez could not make a play on to load the bases.
But as she had done time after time, Wallace bore down. She induced power-hitter Bell to hit a weak pop-up to the mound for the second out and then struck out Falcon on a 1-2 pitch to end the game.
“If we had the bases loaded again with the season on the line, I would put Bianka Bell at the plate every single day and twice on Sunday,” Torina said. “There is not one question in my mind. If I had to put someone at the plate, I would put Bianka Bell there every single time. She’s not going to get a hit every single time — I think that’s clear. But I’m still going to count on that kid every single time. She’s a fantastic player, and she is a name you will know as a part of this program for years to come.”
For the second straight day, LSU pitcher Rachele Fico (24-13) was the hard-luck loser, allowing the Cajuns just two hits and five base runners in losing for the second time in as many days to Louisiana. On Saturday, Fico allowed just two hits, both home runs, in a 3-0 loss that sent the Cajuns to the regional title game.
“She is one of the bravest people that I know,” Torina said. “She is an unbelievable competitor. For that kid to go out there and pitch those two games the way she did and stay focused with her dad going through everything that he is going through as he continues to fight, for her to do that when he is not in such great condition, I cannot imagine what that takes. She is such a special, special competitor. I’ve said it since the day I got here. The talent that Rachele Fico brings to this program is such a small part of what she brings to this program. She is just an amazing person and a teammate. She’s a kid that everyone would die to coach.”
According to The Advocate, Fico’s father, Ralph, has cancer and is hospitalized in Metairie.