ANN ARBOR, Mich. — No matter the circumstances, it seemed the Louisiana-Lafayette softball team came up just short Friday against Michigan.
The Ragin’ Cajuns were inches away from routine plays that, since they weren’t made, preserved innings or were seconds late on calls at the plate that would have swung momentum.
But the biggest moment came in the bottom of the eighth inning, when first baseman Matte Haack misplayed a foul pop-up in the sun. The error allowed Michigan second baseman Ashley Lane to crush a two-run homer that turned a one-run ULL lead into a 4-3 Michigan victory in the opening game of an NCAA Super Regional best-of-three series.
ULL must win twice Saturday to advance to its first Women’s College World Series since 2008. Its opener is at 11 a.m. CST and will be televised by ESPN2.
“Those calls were an inch here, an inch there, and if you see it a different way, then it all happens differently,” ULL coach Michael Lotief said. “That game is decided by inches, calls, at-bats — an inch here, an inch there. Obviously we want to win. We wish the result was different, but their effort, their attitude, how hard they prepared and how hard they worked was really impressive today.”
Michigan (49-10) led 2-0 entering the seventh and was one out from securing the win. But ULL’s Nerissa Myers knocked a single to left field before Brianna Cherry hit a home run to center to tie the score in stunning fashion.
The Cajuns (46-14) cruised into the eighth, where they pulled ahead on Haack’s towering homer to left. ULL had five of its nine hits in the seventh and eighth innings, finally getting something against Michigan pitcher Sara Driesenga.
The sophomore threw five strikeouts while walking three in 7.1 innings. Left-hander Haylie Wagner turned in the final two outs of the eighth with runners on second and third to keep it a one-run game.
“I just think it’s a matter of making adjustments throughout the game,” Myers said. “I think it was the fact that our batters were wearing her out throughout the game, getting a lot of 3-2 counts.”
Said Lotief: “As we tied it up, we started playing a lot freer, taking our rips and playing the Ragin’ Cajun way. We were taking some hacks.”
Driesenga’s performance added more pressure on ULL sophomore Jordan Wallace, who struggled with command much of the game. She still posted 10 strikeouts while allowing five hits.
The Cajuns’ best chance came in the sixth with one out and a runner on base when Haack hit a ball to deep right that drifted over the wall. But Michigan right fielder Nicole Sappingfield knocked the ball back onto the field to hold Haack to a single. Driesenga retired the next two batters to get out of the jam.
“The thing is, you can’t get too high,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, whose team is looking for its first WCWS berth since 2009. “Nothing’s decided today. You can get too high, and (Saturday) we need to be ready to fight.”
Michigan took command with two runs in the first. A double from freshman Sierra Romero that dropped less than a foot between two outfielders scored the first run, and she came home on a single from Caitlin Blanchard.
ULL will need a pair of wins Saturday to reach the World Series, but Lotief said there’s no pressure.
“When you’ve got throat cancer, that’s pressure,” said Lotief, who suffered from the disease prior to coaching.
“But playing a softball game, that’s not pressure, is it?”