LAFAYETTE — Arizona catcher Chelsea Goodacre’s grasp wasn’t tight enough.
And the second chance given to Samantha Walsh was how Louisiana-Lafayette inflicted damage in the teams’ NCAA softball super regional opener Friday night.
A foul tip off the end of Walsh’s bat ricocheted into Goodacre’s chest protector in the first inning. If she had snagged it, the Wildcats’ one-run lead may have stood up.
Instead, Walsh turned on an offering from pitcher Estela Piñon, launching it to center field for a two-run homer to kick-start a 5-3 victory for the Ragin’ Cajuns at Lamson Park.
It put the Cajuns, the No. 6 national seed, a win away from ending a six-year drought with a trip to the Women’s College World Series.
UL-Lafayette (48-8-1) rode a steady outing from junior Christina Hamilton in the circle, with the normally dominant redshirt junior going the distance in allowing big-swinging Arizona (44-15) to muster just six hits and trusting a steady defense behind her.
She got the mistake out of the way early.
Hamilton’s two-strike offering was a fat pitch to the first batter she faced, one Arizona’s Hallie Wilson lifted over the right-field wall for an early 1-0 lead.
For a moment, the buzz of the 2,691 in Lamson’s bleachers — many of whom lined up three hours before first pitch and snaked out onto the sidewalk along Cajundome Drive — died down.
Sure, Hamilton (28-2) allowed a bloop single and a walk that eventually put runners at the corners.
But she didn’t buckle. Instead, Hamilton deftly swerved around disaster.
She got Goodacre swinging, then forced Mo Mercado into a fielder’s choice two batters later to escape the jam.
It was another six innings before she hit turbulence, giving up a two-run homer to Kelsi Fox in the seventh to cut the lead to two.
Hamilton struck out Goodacre looking and followed up by getting Katiyana Mauga hacking at air on a rise ball for the second out. Calmly, she put aside a two-out single to Mercado when Lauren Young hit a soft, game-inning grounder to shortstop Corin Voinche.
Piñon wasn’t so adept at avoiding trouble
After giving up the go-ahead homer to Elkins in the first, Piñon’s control was scattershot on a night when umpire Smokey Edds’ strike zone was tight.
The second chance granted to Elkins, whose 21st homer of the season blotted out Piñon’s early lead, was just the start of a rough three-inning outing.
The Cajuns did most of their damage with hacks that were more timely than thumping.
In the bottom of the second, one when she never notched a first-pitch strike, Piñon (19-9) walked the first two batters she faced.
While she worked around designated player Sara Corbello and got Voinche to ground back to the circle, Piñon couldn’t wriggle out of trouble.
Courtney Rodriguez sliced a single to right field, scoring Shelbi Redfearn. Three pitches later, Haley Hayden’s easy single up the middle pushed it to 4-1 when Kelsey Vincent trotted in.
Piñon, who only threw 47 of 83 pitches for strikes, was touched up an inning later on a sacrifice fly by Corbello with the bases loaded that brought in Landry — a swing that sent right fielder Mauga drifting to the wall.
The Cajuns cashed in on chances that Arizona’s bats — ones that thumped a nation-leading 106 home runs this season — never could.
Hamilton issued four walks of her own, notching just one strikeout, but the Wildcats still left 10 runners stranded on the base paths.
The heart of the Wildcats order — Goodacre, Mauga and Fox — that combined for 55 home runs and 189 RBIs this season was punchless as the trio went 2-for-10 at the plate.
So it hardly mattered that Arizona reliever Shelby Babcock, on shock duty, only allowed one hit — a Corbello double into the left-field gap during the bottom of the fifth — over four innings to buy her lineup a chance to cut into a deficit.
Follow Matthew Harris on Twitter: @MHarrisAdvocate.