HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Louisiana Tech put on a performance late Wednesday night in the first game of the 2017 Conference USA Tournament that would have made even Cinderella proud.
The Lady Techsters overcame a more than 3-and-a-half-hour delay in the start time for their game due to a pair of extra-inning contests earlier in the day to dismantle Charlotte 11-1 in a game that didn’t end until 12:34 a.m. Thursday morning.
With No. 8 seed WKU playing Cinderella with two upset victories over No. 5 seed UAB and No. 4 seed Florida Atlantic that combined to go 21 innings and last more than seven hours, it left Louisiana Tech and Charlotte to avoid turning into pumpkins.
“I’m really so proud of the girls,” said Tech head coach Mark Montgomery. “The energy, focus and intensity they came out with, I felt it before the game. I felt an electricity. When you feel that as a coach and you see how we came out and we were so dominant on offense and defense from the get-go, it’s exciting.”
Tech (34-21) used a four-run first and six-run fourth inning to cruise to the victory, advancing to the double elimination portion of the tournament which starts Thursday afternoon. The Lady Techsters will face No. 2 seed FIU at 4:30 p.m. in a game that can be heard on the LA Tech Sports Network on ESPN 97.7 FM.
Charlotte and LA Tech – the fourth game of the opening day – were scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. but 8-seeded WKU played spoiler in more ways than one, defeating UAB 12-7 in a 12-inning affair and then coming back to down FAU 6-5 in a 9-inning contest.
Tech and Charlotte didn’t start until 11:02 p.m.
By 11:15 p.m. that game was all but over.
After sophomore Krystal De La Cruz set the 49ers down in order in the top of the first, Tech exploded for four runs on four hits in the bottom of the frame, chasing Charlotte ace Haley Wiseman who recorded only one out.
Taria Page laced an RBI single to left field and then Pauline Tufi followed with a two-run double to left centerfield to give the Lady Techsters a 3-0 lead. Tech then stole a fourth run with a perfectly executed double steal.
Although there were still four innings to play – Tech won in 4 ½ innings due to the 8-run rule – Charlotte had no answer for De La Cruz. The Eagle Pass, Texas native mowed down the 49ers in order through the first three innings, including a three-pitch top of the second.
“She was in cruise control,” said Montgomery. “Eventually one of their hitters got ahold of her and got one. We play a very aggressive squeezing defense in that. She lifted it over and left one up and up until then she hadn’t missed many pitches. She’s doing so phenomenal and great. She’s had an amazing season and we really felt like we have a pitching staff. We’ve excited because we don’t have to ride one arm, we can go with others and that makes us excited going into the rest of the tournament.”
By the time the 49ers got their first base runner – a leadoff triple by Spenser Gray in the top of the fourth inning – the Lady Techsters led 5-0 and felt little pressure. Gray would score on a sacrifice fly by Haley Pace to cut the lead to 5-1.
The 49ers momentum faded fast. Tech led off the bottom of the fourth with small ball as Karlee Jensen, Jazlyn Crowder and Tori Charters recorded back-to-back-to-back bunt singles to load the bases. Morgan Turkoly drew a walk to up the score to 6-1 and then one out later, Tufi cleared the bases with a double to left center. Tech led 9-1.
Ali Galaz then followed with an RBI double to right center before pinch hitter Natalie Moran singled home the sixth and final run of the inning. Tech plated six runs on seven hits off Charlotte reliever Allison Green in the frame as it sent 11 batters to the plate.
Charlotte’s Kiersten Berrier recorded a one-out single in the top of the fifth but Jensen and Crowder then combined for a highlight reel 4-6-3 double play to end the game.
The Lady Techsters recorded 13 hits in the game, including five doubles. Crowder (2-4, 2 runs), Charters (1-2, 2 runs), Turkoly (run, RBI), Page (1-2, RBI), Tufi (2-3, 2 runs, 5 RBI), Galaz (2-2, 2 runs, RBI), Marilyn Rizzato (2-2), Moran (1-1, RBI), and Jensen (2-3, run) led the potent Tech attack.
De La Cruz (11-3) picked up the win, allowing only one run on three hits and no walks while throwing only 59 pitches in the contest.