Ragin’ Cajuns Make Their Mark at the Judi Garman Classic
By Jim McCurdy
Something is ragin’ in Louisiana.
In the outer reaches of the swampy South lives a softball team that was, well, tearing it up through March. Teams from all parts of the country made their way to Cal State Fullerton’s Judi Garman Classic March 14-16. With the likes of Arizona, Washington, Arizona State, Oklahoma and Michigan, no one was expecting this forgotten Top 10 team in Lafayette, La., to steal the thunder.
That the Ragin’ Cajuns did.
Louisiana at Lafayette went another weekend in March unscathed, running its record to a perfect 26-0 after three wins in Fullerton. The Ragin’ Cajuns knocked off defending national champion Arizona State, 9-2, as they busted out the bats for at least one run in each of the last five innings and battered two Sun Devils pitchers for 11 hits in a real Southern-style beat-down.
Lafayette, which in the mid-2000s were among the nation’s elite never to be heard of at the end of the season, created something to talk about over the first two months of the season. Now the question becomes how real is this Ragin’ Cajuns squad? A win over the defending champs ought to tell you something.
Nerissa Myers went 2 for 3 with a home run and three RBI against Arizona State. Sarah Draheim homered and went 3 for 4. Pitcher Jordan Wallace allowed five hits and two runs in a complete-game effort. It was Louisiana’s third win over a ranked team this season.
“I think our kids played extremely well tonight against an extremely good team in an awesome venue,” Louisiana co-head coach Michael Lotief said. “I thought Jordan was steady the entire game and trusted the plan, her teammates, and went pitch by pitch. The fifth-year kids that have been through the battles gave us a sense of belief, and we never doubted. It’s a good win.”
Katelyn Boyd homered and went 2 for 4 for the Sun Devils. Dallas Escobedo, last year’s freshman pitching phenom, surrendered five runs, six hits and three walks in the loss.
Louisiana continued its offensive onslaught with a 5-1 win over Penn State and a 9-1 drubbing of Fresno State. Pitcher Ashley Brignac allowed one hit and struck out seven in her win over the Nittany Lions. Myers ripped an RBI single in the fifth as the Ragin’ Cajuns scored the game’s first run in a contest that had pitcher’s dominion penciled in with Brignac and Penn State’s Lisa Akamine neutralizing the opposition for the first four innings.
Christi Orgeron drove in two runs as Louisiana went up 3-0. Penn State’s Lauren Yao broke up Brignac’s perfect game with a double to left, and Morgan Long’s RBI groundout ended the Cajuns’ shutout bid.
Myers cranked a grand slam in the second inning of the Ragin’ Cajuns win over Fresno State. Louisiana put the Bulldogs away in the fifth when Natalie Fernandez had an RBI single up the middle to score the ninth run.
“Our kids are tough and take great risks, and play the game so hard,” Lotief said. “It is a testament to their fitness and mental make-up that they continue to battle and fight and compete. I’m more proud of that than any win or championship ever.”
Oklahoma blasted DePaul, 18-1 in five innings. The Sooners scored six runs in the second and eight more in the third, pounding 19 hits. Lauren Chamberlain went 3 for 5 with a grand slam and drove in five runs. Pitcher Keilani Ricketts was 3 for 3 with three RBI, and gave up two hits, no runs and struck out seven in three innings of work in the circle. Georgia Casey, Destinee Martinez and Jessica Shults all had three hits apiece.
Oklahoma shut out Michigan, 2-0, as Ricketts struck out nine in the complete-game outing. Chamberlain homered for the 11th time this season, and Katie Norris singled and drove in a run for the Sooners. Amy Knapp had two hits for the Wolverines.
The Sooners also beat Virginia, 9-1, as Shults and Casey drove in three runs apiece. Oklahoma had 18 hits. The Sooners finished the Classic with a 6-1 win over Penn State as Casey and Norris each drove in two runs. Oklahoma rapped 51 hits in going 4-0 in Fullerton.
Arizona State beat Michigan, 1-0, on Boyd’s solo shot in the sixth. Escobedo went the distance, allowing two hits and a walk. Michigan’s Haylie Wagner allowed four hits in the loss.
Washington got past Iowa, 4-3, as Bryanna Walker went 6 2/3 innings, allowing three hits and three walks in the win. Kaitlin Inglesby closed out the game to pick up the save for the Huskies. Iowa’s Megan Blank was 2 for 3 with a triple and two RBI. Washington’s Nikia Williams went 2 for 2 with an RBI, and Inglesby was 1 for 3 with two RBI.
The Huskies run-ruled UC Davis, 14-1, as Inglesby went 3 for 4 with two RBI. She allowed one hit and two walks to pick up her 13th win in the circle. Washington also pounded DePaul, 9-1. Inglesby allowed four hits and a run in the win. She went 3 for 3 with three RBI, and Kylee Lahners had a three-run homer and Kimi Pohlman was 2 for 3 with a triple and an RBI.
The tournament was shortened by rain the last two days.
Wed., Mar. 14
Notre Dame 16, Cal State Fullerton 0 (5)
Purdue 8, Cal State Fullerton 6
Thurs., Mar. 15
UC Davis 11, Virginia 5
Notre Dame 2, Iowa 0
Washington 14, UC Davis 1 (5)
BYU 14, Purdue 1 (5)
Oklahoma 18, DePaul 1 (5)
Michigan 2, Notre Dame 1
Arizona State 3, BYU 0
Washington 4, Iowa 3
Oklahoma 2, Michigan 0
Fresno State 1, Virginia 0
Louisiana 9, Arizona State 2
DePaul 4, Fresno State 0
Friday, Mar. 16
Iowa 2, Virginia 0
Washington 7, Notre Dame 2
Arizona State 4, Fresno State 0
Louisiana 5, Penn State 1
Washington 9, DePaul 1 (5)
Oklahoma 9, Virginia 1
Louisiana 9, Fresno State 1 (5)
Arizona 8, UC Davis 0 (6)
Arizona State 1, Michigan 0
Oklahoma 6, Penn State 1
Arizona 6, Iowa 1
BYU 9, UC Davis 0 (6)
Blue Demons Lead Competition at the NFCA Leadoff ClassicBy Jim McCurdy
When DePaul ventured off to the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Fla., Feb. 24-26, the Blue Demons weren’t the favorite.
Not with the likes of ranked Tennessee, Michigan, Louisiana at Lafayette and Georgia Tech in the field. But what the Blue Demons accomplished is nothing short of barking over. Especially considering in a field full of offensive-minded teams, the Blue Demons pitching was downright unforgiving.
DePaul went 5-0, winning the tournament title after beating Hofstra, 3-0, on the final day at the Eddie C. Moore Complex. The Blue Demons also shut out Massachusetts, 8-0, in a five-inning run-rule game to open the tournament. They knocked off No. 20 Georgia Tech, 4-2, later that first day. The Blue Demons blanked Winthrop, 10-0, in five innings, and got past Mississippi State, 3-2.
Bear in mind, No. 12 Michigan lost to No. 17 Louisiana-Lafayette, 10-7. The Wolverines also were shut out, 1-0, by UMass. No. 10 Tennessee fell to Winthrop, 2-1. Georgia Tech was blitzed, 9-0, by the Volunteers. UMass also shut out the Yellow Jackets, 1-0. Mississippi State also beat Georgia Tech, 5-3.
Yeah, that’s a lot of who-beat-who to keep up with, but the bottom line is the so-called best teams were losing games, and the unheralded found ways to win. Louisiana-Lafayette also went unbeaten in the three-day tournament, but DePaul was crowned champion on a tiebreaker.
The Blue Demons used a two-run double from Kirsten Verdun in the first inning of its final win over Hofstra. Ali Warren’s sixth-inning base hit drove in the third run for DePaul. Pitcher Hannah Penna allowed four hits, walked two and struck out four in the shutout.
Louisiana-Lafayette beat Winthrop, 6-1, in its final game. Paige Cormier went 2 for 2 with an RBI. Reliever Ashley Brignac won her third game of the tournament, tossing the final four innings and allowing three hits and no runs. She struck out 20 batters in four appearances at the Leadoff Classic.
DePaul pounded 51 hits in the five games. Assistant coach Samantha Findlay, a marked hitter at Michigan, no doubt was beaming at the 10-plus hits per game the Blue Demons averaged in Clearwater.
“I’ve been working with Sam a lot, and trying to be more selective,” said Verdun, who doubled in the sixth inning of the win over Hofstra. “I was seeing the ball better, and picking the right pitches to swing at.
“The thing with slumps is that you can’t muscle your way out of them. It just has to happen, and in the meantime, you just trust that your teammates will come through. That’s exactly what’s been happening.”
Along with Verdun and Penna, Bree Brown combined to direct the Blue Demons’ pitching staff to a 0.44 earned run average in the five Florida games.
“Our pitching made a definite improvement,” coach Eugene Lenti said. “We didn’t give up any home runs, and that was a big priority.”
Louisiana-Lafayette ran its record to 11-0 in the win over Michigan. The Ragin’ Cajuns fell behind 2-0 to the Wolverines early when Ashley Lane banged a two-run homer. Louisiana at Lafayette’s Katie Smith doubled to lead off its half of the first, and scored on Nerissa Myers base hit. Matte Haack drove in two runs to put the Ragin’ Cajuns ahead, 3-2. Cormier singled up the middle to add another run for Louisiana at Lafayette.
Michigan responded in the third on Lane’s two-run bomb and Lauren Sweet’s solo shot to grab the lead back, 5-4. Haack drove in the tying run for the Ragin’ Cajuns in the top half of the third, and Cormier singled through the left side to regain the lead for Lafayette.
Michigan’s Amy Knapp homered to center to knot the score at 6-6 in the fourth, and Steph Kirkpatrick singled and later scored on Bree Evans’ RBI groundout to push the Wolverines back on top, 7-6. Myers lined a ball past a diving center fielder with a runner on, resulting in a two-run homer, as Louisiana at Lafayette took the lead for good in the fourth. Brianna Cherry cranked a solo homer in the bottom of the sixth to tack on a late-inning insurance run for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Verdun, Megan Coronado, Samantha Dodd and Penna were selected to the Leadoff Classic All-Tournament Team. Verdun went 2 for 3 in the finale, and Dodd was 3 for 4. Coronado hit .625 at the tournament.
“Hannah and Bree both did a good job of pitching,” Verdun said. “We were pretty focused on not giving up too many walks, and eliminating the home run balls. All three of us made a lot of progress.”