LAFAYETTE — After the powder-keg she navigated last weekend, University of Louisiana at Lafayette pitcher Jordan Wallace should be prepared for whatever obstacles she faces for the rest of the NCAA Softball Championships.
The sophomore definitely won’t face an environment any more intense than she did at LSU’s Tiger Park, when she threw three emotion-packed shutouts and led the Ragin’ Cajuns into this weekend’s super regional at Michigan.
“That environment was incredible,” said ULL coach Michael Lotief of the NCAA regional, where the Cajuns beat Northwestern State in the opening game and host LSU twice. “The fans were on her every pitch, heckling and cat-calling. They put a lot of pressure on her.
“That’s not a situation that I could have handled, but she didn’t blink.”
The sophomore from Weatherford, Texas, will be back in the pressure cooker Friday and Saturday against the national No. 8 seed Wolverines (48-10) in the best-of-three series that will determine a qualifier for next week’s Women’s College World Series. Friday’s game is at 1 p.m. (CDT) on ESPNU and Saturday’s game is at 11 a.m. (CDT) on ESPN, with a third if-necessary game immediately after on Saturday.
She’ll get the ball again after throwing 365 pitches in the three regional games and allowing a total of seven hits.
“I didn’t know the exact number,” Wallace said, “but there have been a few times that I’ve had to throw a lot of pitches. You just get in a competitive mindset ... you have to stay mentally prepared, play it pitch-by-pitch and stay in every pitch.”
Wallace threw a one-hitter and fanned 11 in the 3-0 opening win over Northwestern State and struck out 10 in a two-hit 2-0 win over LSU on Saturday that sent the Cajuns (46-13) into Sunday play as the regional’s only unbeaten team. The third game was even more intense after LSU came back through the losers bracket, with Wallace having to work out of trouble in almost every inning but keeping the No. 9 national seed Tigers off the scoreboard in what eventually became a 1-0 win.
“That’s a fun environment to play in,” Lotief said, “with so much riding on every pitch. It will either crack you or bring out your best.”
For Wallace, it was a continuation of the latter. Over her last 35 innings pitched, dating to the Sun Belt Conference tournament two weeks ago, she has now given up one run while facing top 15-ranked competition in three of those five games.
“We knew the crowd was going to be loud,” Wallace said. “LSU has a very good program, and it was going to be a battle.”
“It’s going to be a tough environment up there, too,” Lotief said of the Ann Arbor matchup. “It’s going to be a war ... it’s going to be a lot like Arizona State last year.”
The Cajuns are in their second straight super regional, and the memories of last year’s trip to Tempe, Ariz., are bittersweet at best. ULL took a 6-0 win in the opener but got pounded 9-2 and 8-0 in the second and third games in missing out on a sixth World Series trip.
“The super regional last year helped me get ready for last week,” Wallace said. “I knew I had to make some changes, and coach told me in the fall to trust him, and we’d do it together.”
Wallace was primarily a rise ball and curve pitcher in a stellar freshman year when she went 27-2, but she improved her change-up and added a drop ball this season. As a result, she’s more than doubled her strikeout total (167 to 356), but the changes were still a work in progress early this season when she and the squad went through a 4-9 stretch after a 14-2 start.
“Having watched her progression during the year,” Lotief said, “and seeing the game reward her for her hard work, it gave me chills.”
The weekend will also give Wallace a chance to settle a couple of scores. She took a 10-7 early-season win over Michigan in last season’s NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Fla., but the Wolverines bashed four home runs off her in five innings. And earlier this year, Michigan took a 3-1 win over ULL and Wallace in that same tournament.
“They’re very good hitters,” she said. “They welcomed me to college softball last year, so there’s a track record. I’d definitely like to put a couple of wins up against them this week.”