The University of Louisiana-Lafayette women’s softball team is going to the NCAA College World Series, May 29 to June 4 in Oklahoma City, and the players and the coach say their extremely passionate fans deserve most of the credit.
“You definitely feel the love from the fans,” said starting pitcher Christina Hamilton. “They are right there supporting us every minute.”
But a lot of people would credit Hamilton herself. She started in the first (and only) two games of the best-of-three series against the University of Arizona Wildcats, powering the Louisiana team, the Ragin’ Cajuns, to a 5-3 first win followed by a 7-1 victory.
Hamilton took the mound first at Lamson Park in Lafayette, La., on Friday night. The Cajuns and the Wildcats are the top home-running teams in the nation, so it was expected to be a high-flying match-up. Hallie Wilson of the Wildcats hit a leadoff home run, despite the Cajuns’ home field advantage. Arizona took the lead, 1-0.
Then Hamilton regrouped and prevented any more runs in the first inning.
The Wildcats took the field on defense, with starter Estela Piñon on the mound, where she stayed until the bottom of the fourth when Shelby Babcock replaced her. After a questionable foul call gave Samantha Walsh another at bat, she made the Wildcats pay. Walsh, the utility player, hit a two-run home run to bring in Lexie Elkins. The Cajuns took the lead, 2-1.
At the bottom of the second, Cajuns Shelbi Redfearn and Kelsey Vincent scored, putting the team up 4-1. The Cajuns had two runs, two hits and two players left on base at the bottom of the second.
Cajun Sara Corbello lined out to right field, but Shellie Landry scored, 5-1, at the bottom of the third. Other than the leadoff home run, the Wildcats went scoreless until the seventh. Hamilton controlled the mound.
Katiyana Mauga, Arizona’s freshman third baseman, said that Hamilton “used her off-speed” to dominate. “We keep looking at the high pitches instead of looking down. We didn’t hit the top half of the ball and were hitting right to” the Louisiana defenders.
Down by 4 going into the final inning, Arizona had one more shot. Kellie Fox homered to center field, bringing home Eva Watson, unearned, closing the score to 5-3. Hamilton then struck out two Wildcats, and the Cajun defense ousted Mo Mercado to secure the win, 5-3.
The next day, down one game in a best-of-three series, Arizona needed a victory to keep their World Series hopes alive. The Wildcats started Babcock as pitcher for Piñon. Arizona Head Coach Mike Candrea said Babcock’s “effectiveness” in first-game relief, when she blocked the Cajuns from getting any more runs, and Piñon’s “ineffectiveness” promoted Babcock to the starting position.
“We felt like Babcock had an opportunity, with her off-speed,” to keep the Cajuns “off balance,” Candrea said.
Louisiana batted first, and started off blazing. Redfearn singled to right field, and Walsh and Elkins scored. The Cajuns led 2-0. Vincent joined the party and hit a single over the third base, and Laundry scored, putting it at 3-0.
With the solo homer, Mauga put Arizona on the board, 3-1, bottom of the second. The Cajuns’ Elkins picked the momentum back up with a roaring solohome run to left center, pushing the score to 4-1, at the top of the third. In the next inning, Hayden doubled to left center and Cassidy White scored, bringing the tally to 5-1. The Cajuns continued the slamfest into the fifth: Corbello singled and Redfearn scored, 6-1.
Smiles wrapped Lamson Park as victory for the Cajuns grew closer. During the sixth, Elkins walked up to the plate and crashed her second home run, 22 for the season. Louisiana led 7-1.
“We take it one pitch at a time,” Hamilton said. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. The game was not over.”
The Cajuns were six outs away from booking a ticket to the college World Series. Hamilton exited in the sixth with no runs for Arizona since the third inning.
Arizona took the field for the last time, but “we could not get anything going for the most part,” Candrea said.
Nearly everyone in the mostly Louisiana crowd was on their feet cheering ecstatically. After the third out, fans jumped over the barrier and joined the Cajuns on the field. It was one more example of what the Lafayette coach, Michael Lotief, called the Ragin’ Cajuns’ “home field advantage.”