Louisiana-Lafayette softball coach Michael Lotief has been involved in enough winners bracket games in the NCAA tournament to know how razor-thin the difference between victory and defeat can be.
“When you get into this kind of environment, the level of competition is so high,” Lotief said Saturday. “One pitch, one swing, one play makes the difference.”
It certainly did in second-seeded ULL’s 3-0 victory against top seed LSU to open the second day of the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional at Tiger Park.
ULL started the game with a walk, which was quickly followed by a mammoth home run by Brianna Cherry to the top of the left-field berm for a 2-0 lead against LSU starter Rachele Fico.
That was all the support ULL sophomore Jordan Wallace needed. She shut down LSU on two hits less than 24 hours after tossing a one-hit shutout against Northwestern State in the regional opener Friday.
The victory put No. 21 ULL (45-13) in the regional championship game at 1 p.m. Sunday against LSU, which responded to beat Central Connecticut State 11-0 in six innings in an elimination game Saturday night.
The Ragin’ Cajuns need one more win in the double-elimination tournament to advance to the super regionals against Michigan or California. A second game, if necessary, will start at 4 p.m. Sunday.
But Lotief wasn’t ready to start thinking about that after his team blanked 10th-ranked LSU.
“We understand that we cannot get too high, because there is a lot of softball to be played,” he said. “We aren’t going to replay today and not get too far ahead of ourselves. We will continue our same routine and stay focused. These victories are hard to come by and are tough. We’ll enjoy the moment and each other, then we will prepare for the next game.”
Thanks to Cherry’s long blast and a solo homer by Sara Corbello in the top of the seventh, not to mention Wallace’s pitching, ULL was able to sit back and rest Saturday night. The home runs by Cherry and Corbello were the only hits Fico (24-12) allowed.
“We had our preparation before the game, and we had an understanding of what (Fico) was going to give us,” Cherry said. “I wasn’t really looking for a certain pitch but making sure I was putting myself in the best possible situation to be successful.”
Wallace (30-7) was perfect through three innings and eventually retired the side in order in five of seven innings. Only four LSU batters reached base.
“Getting ahead early gave us a boost of confidence,” Wallace said. “We knew from there we were going to come out successful.”
In the fourth, A.J. Andrews got the Tigers’ first hit with a leadoff double that glanced off the glove of shortstop Nerissa Myers, and Jacee Blades laced a two-out single in the sixth for LSU’s only hits.
“Ultimately, Jordan Wallace threw a really good game against us,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “She was very difficult to make an adjustment with, and she kept us off balance.
“I didn’t think we played very confidently. I thought we played not to lose instead of playing to win. We haven’t played like that all year.”