HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Louisiana Tech got two tremendous pitching performances from Preslee Gallaway and Krystal De La Cruz and some timely hitting to defeat WKU 1-0 in 10 innings and 23rd ranked Marshall 4-2 to advance to the C-USA title game.
The Lady Techsters (36-22) will face FIU (45-12) at noon in a winner take all title game that will be televised live on CBS Sports Network. The game will be aired on the LA Tech Sports Network on KPCH 99.3 FM with the pregame show starting at 11:45 a.m.
After falling to FIU 7-1 on Thursday, LA Tech was forced into the elimination bracket where it had to win a pair of games on Friday. The challenge didn’t faze LA Tech.
Less than 40 minutes after defeating WKU in 10 innings, the Lady Techsters took the field against the C-USA regular season champion Marshall Thundering Herd. The Lady Techsters defeated the Conference USA Pitcher of the Year Jordan Dixon who entered the game with 31 wins and handed the Thundering Herd only its 10th loss in 51 games.
“It feels pretty awesome,” said Mark Montgomery. “It was an emotional game and I think it was probably the best game of the tournament thus far in my opinion. A lot of gamesmanship on both sides in terms of just doing it, but the emotions were high on both teams and both teams wanted it so bad.”
In the first game of the day, Preslee Gallaway threw 10 scoreless innings against the Cinderella and eight-seeded Hilltoppers, getting some help from a few spectacular defensive plays behind her.
“Every game is different,” said Montgomery. “They are just so scrappy and fight so hard and they were doing such a great job. Their pitching is what kept us off balance and we weren’t able to do much. All the credit goes to them. That was a great game. We all had chances to score and didn’t and it finally came down to a couple of clutch hits at the end.”
Gallaway was matched pitch for pitch by WKU starter Kathryn Downing, who threw six scoreless innings before giving way to Kelsey Aikey in the top of the seventh. The two teams went blow for blow with scoring opportunities few and far between.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Tech appeared to be ready to end the contest. After Downing had retired 15 straight Tech batters, Taria Page led off with a single and then Pauline Tufi doubled off the right centerfield wall to put the potential game-winning run on third with no outs. After a strikeout, Jessica Ball lined a ball to right field that would have scored the winning run but Kimmie Atienza failed to tag on the play. Marilyn Rizzato then flew out to end the threat.
WKU threatened in the top of the eighth inning, putting a runner on third with two outs. Halee Towers then hit a soft liner up the middle that appeared headed for centerfield and a 1-0 WKU lead. But Tech shortstop Jazlyn Crowder made a highlight reel diving catch behind second base to rob the Hilltoppers of the run.
The game went to the 10th. With two outs and no runners on base, Jazlyn Crowder walked and Tori Charters singled to shortstop and a throwing error allowed both runners to move to second and third. Morgan Turkoly then hit the first pitch from WKU reliever Kelsey Aikey up the middle and into centerfield scoring the game winning run.
“I was just trying to not let the moment be too big, and get a good pitch to drive early in the count,” said Turkoly.
Gallaway (15-13) earned the win, allowing zero runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out seven.
“She was phenomenal right,” said Montgomery. “And that saves us an arm, so now we are in this next game not having to ride that pitcher but being able to go to somebody else. So we couldn’t be more proud of the effort she gave us.”
Tufi and Charters led Tech with two hits each while Turkoly and Page each recorded one hit in the win.
In the second game of the day, Tech stood toe to toe with the Thundering Herd and found a way to score two runs with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to take the lead and the eventual win.
With the score knotted at 2-2, Karlee Jensen laid down a bunt single with two outs and then Jazlyn Crowder followed with a walk. A wild pitch allowed both runners to move up and then Tori Charters recorded an infield single to shortstop that scored Jensen from third with the go-ahead run.
Tech then executed a perfect double steal as Crowder crossed home plate before Charters was tagged out on the run down.
Marshall led the bottom of the seventh off with a single but Krystal De La Cruz recorded back-to-back strikeouts for the first two outs. With the C-USA Player of the Year Morgan Zerkle in the on-deck circle, De La Cruz got the final out when Pauline Tufi fielded a bunt and threw to Jensen covering first for the win.
Tech took an early 2-0 lead in the third inning, plating two runs on three hits and one costly error. In that frame Jensen and Crowder recorded back-to-back singles. Charters then hit a grounder to third baseman Shaelynn Braxton who then threw wide of Zerkle who was covering the bag. The error allowed Jensen to score the first run. With two outs and a runner on third base, Taria Page lay down a surprise bunt single that scored Charters for a 2-0 Tech lead.
Marshall answered in the bottom of the third, plating a pair of unearned runs on three hits and one error. The score remained tied until the top of the seventh.
De La Cruz (12-3) picked up the win, allowing the two unearned runs on six hits and one walk with five strikeouts.
Jensen led Tech with three hits.