SOFTBALL: Cajuns sweep UTA in Sun Belt-opening doubleheader

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LAFAYETTE – The 18th-ranked Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns began Sun Belt Conference play on Saturday with a 6-5, 6-2 doubleheader sweep of UTA at Lamson Park.

The sweep gave the Ragin’ Cajuns (19-5, 2-0 Sun Belt) the series victory, extending the school and Sun Belt record of consecutive conference series won to 30 straight. The streak began in March 2013 with a sweep of FIU.

Haley Hayden posted three RBI on a solo home run and two-run triple and Aleah Craighton launched a walk-off home run in the seventh as Louisiana triumphed in Game 1. That made a winner out of Alex Stewart (8-3, 2.12 ERA in 2017) who improved her career Sun Belt record to 22-1.

Daniella Chavez ended a scoreless tie in Game 2 with a three-run homer in the third inning and freshman Alyssa Denham held UTA (15-12, 2-3 Sun Belt) to three hits and struck out a season-high eight as the Ragin’ Cajuns completed the sweep.

Louisiana and UTA conclude the three-game Sun Belt Conference series with a single game on Sunday beginning at 1 p.m.

Game 1 – Louisiana 6, UTA 5
The Ragin’ Cajuns were in rally mode after defensive miscues (season-high tying three errors) attributed to the Mavericks opening a 3-1 lead after 2-1/2 innings.

Louisiana trimmed the deficit to 3-2 in the third inning with a solo home run from Hayden, then completed the rally the next at bat. Three runs were pushed across in the bottom of the fourth inning, the final two tallies crossing home on a triple from Hayden for a 5-3 lead.

UTA drew even at 5-all in the seventh inning on a pinch hit, solo home run from Aileen Garcia. Louisiana walked off with the win in the bottom half of the frame when Craighton led off with a solo home run to center field.

Hayden finished 2-for-3 at the plate and recorded a game-high three RBI, her seventh multiple-RBI game of the season. Craighton was also 2-for-3 in the contest which allowed her keep alive a hitting streak that was at seven games entering the day.

Stewart allowed only two earned runs and struck out five in her complete game effort. UTA’s Sam Clakley was charged with six runs (all earned) in the loss.

Game 2 – Louisiana 6, UTA 2
The Ragin’ Cajuns stranded three runners in their first two at bats, but broke through off of UTA starter Mariah Denson in the third inning when Chavez launched a three-run home run to snap a scoreless tie.

UTA got on the board in the fifth inning when Sandra Mendoza delivered an RBI double to trim the Louisiana lead to 3-1.

The Ragin’ Cajuns added insurance in the bottom half, plating three runs to extend the lead to 6-1. It started with a pinch-hit RBI single from Abby Sterling followed by two runs that scored on a throwing error at home plate on a fielder’s choice grounder from Kelli Martinez.

Denham picked up the win in her first career Sun Belt start after yielding only three hits and reaching her season-high strikeout total.

Chavez was 2-for-3 at the plate and led the way with three RBI. She posted her fourth home run of the season and collected her team-leading ninth multiple-RBI game.

Craighton picked up a single in the fourth inning to extended her active hitting streak to nine games.

– The doubleheader extended Louisiana’s string of consecutive home games to start the 2017 season to 24. Sunday’s finale with UTA will wrap up what will be a season-opening, 25-game homestand. The Ragin’ Cajuns first road games of the season come next weekend (March 25-26) in Mobile, Ala., at South Alabama.
– Not allowing more than five runs on the day, the Ragin’ Cajuns pitching staff has now held the opposition to five runs or less in all 24 games.
– Haley Hayden scored one run in each game increasing her career total to 215 and pulling her within four runs of surpassing Holly Tankersley (218 runs) for third place on the career runs scored list.
– Aleah Craighton not only extended her hitting streak to nine games, she also extended her reached base streak to 24 games.
– With three more RBI on the day, Daniella Chavez has now collected 21 RBI since the start of the Mardi Gras Invitational (dates back to Feb. 23).
– The sweep increased Louisiana’s all-time series lead over UTA to 23-5. The Ragin’ Cajuns now hold a 10-1 edge in Sun Belt Conference meetings.
– The crowd of 2,061 marked the eighth time exceeding 2,000 this season at Lamson Park. Louisiana has now drawn at least 1,700 in all 14 plating dates at the facility in the 2017 season.
– Louisiana saw its first action since March 9 vs. Baylor and played for only the second and third time in the past 13 days (since March 5). The Ragin’ Cajuns originally scheduled Sun Belt Conference opener at Appalachian State March 11-12 was canceled by severe weather concerns.

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