Cajuns roll past LSU to close in on NCAA Super Regional

by Dan McDonald

Brianna Cherry's early homer and Jordan Wallace's right arm combined Saturday to put UL's softball team one win away from the NCAA Super Regionals. BATON ROUGE Brianna Cherry made an early statement for UL's softball team Saturday, and Jordan Wallace made that statement stand up.

Because of that tandem, the Ragin' Cajun softball team is in position to advance to its fourth NCAA Super Regional in the last six years.

Cherry unloaded a first-inning bomb, a two-run homer that nearly cleared the berm at LSU's Tiger Park, and Wallace checked host LSU on two ground-ball hits as the Cajuns took a 3-0 win over the Tigers in the winners' bracket final of the NCAA's Baton Rouge Regional.

The Cajuns (45-13) only need one win on Sunday to advance to the Super Regional round, while whichever team survives Saturday's two elimination games the Tigers (41-15), Northwestern State or Central Connecticut State will have to win twice over UL on the tournament's final day.

"I've been in this situation before, on both sides," says UL coach Michael Lotief. "I've been the unbeaten team and I've come through the loser's bracket. It's still going to be a war tomorrow."

His team was in a war on Saturday ... a pitching war between Wallace and LSU ace RacheleFico, both of whom threw two-hitters and combined for 17 strikeouts.

The difference in the game was that UL's two hits both went over Tiger Park's left-field wall, with Cherry's 13th homer of the season coming two minutes into the game and Sara Corbello's solo shot in the top of the seventh inning giving the Cajuns some insurance that Wallace didn't need.

"They can swing the bat," says LSU coach Beth Torina of the Cajuns. "We just have to make sure we get her (Fico) some offensive support."

That didn't happen. The Tigers' two hits were a bouncing double by A.J. Andrews that deflected off UL shortstop Nerissa Myers' glove and rolled into foul territory to lead off the fourth inning, and a two-out ground ball slap up the middle by Jacee Blades in the sixth. Wallace recorded an inning-ending strikeout in five of the seven innings, and the Tigers only put one ball in play Blades' single in the final two innings.

Fico (24-12) didn't allow a hit after Cherry's homer until Corbello's in the seventh, and at one point she retired 12 straight batters. UL's only other base-runners came on a two-out walk to Leandra Maly in the second inning and Cherry reaching on a hard-hit error on Tiger third baseman Tammy Wray in the third. Cherry was erased on a double play moments later.

"Fico threw well for us," says LSU shortstop and top hitter Bianka Bell (0-for-3). "We had to step up our offense and get her some runs and we didn't get her any."

Wallace (30-7) didn't have that problem. Myers drew a game-opening 3-1 walk off Fico, and Cherry lined an up-and-in fastball on the second pitch she saw for the 2-0 lead. The run scored by Myers was the 341st of her career, moving her into the NCAA's all-time top 20 list.

"I'm not going to lie, as soon as I hit it I knew it was out," Cherry says. "But when things happen like that, it's not about me. It's about us ... that's the reward for all the hard work we've all put in. But we know if we get ahead, we have to keep going and keep scoring throughout the game."

That didn't happen until two outs in the top of the seventh, when Corbello ended Fico's streak of 12 straight retired batters by taking a low-and-in pitch over the wall in left field for her seventh homer of the season.

"Getting ahead if what we strive for," says Wallace. "Doing that today was a big boost of confidence."

"It was awesome," Lotief says of the dugout when Cherry ripped her homer. "When you get in a game as closely contested as that one, a couple of pitches are going to decide it. We've got a lot of young kids, so that was big for them."

The win was UL's fourth straight over LSU, all of those coming in regional play

Wallace, who threw more than 140 pitches in the Cajuns' 3-0 regional-opening win over Northwestern State, threw 106 on Saturday. But Lotief didn't hesitate when asked about her for Sunday.

"The pitch count's something you think about," he says, "and some people think windmillers can throw an unlimited amount of pitches and that' just not true. But she's trained and she's worked so hard every day to prepare for a moment like this. She's a mentally tough kid. At some point she's going to hit a wall, but until then we're going to ride her."

Since the implementation of the Super Regional round in 2005, the Cajuns have never lost in a regional when going in as the unbeaten team.

"I'm ready for tomorrow," Wallace says. "This is what we prepare for. I definitely could pitch two (games) tomorrow."