TROY, Ala. – Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Softball will play for the 2017 Sun Belt Tournament championship at 1 p.m. on Saturday after defeating Texas State 5-2 in the winner’s bracket final on Friday at the Troy Softball Complex.
The 14th-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns (44-6), who advanced to the championship game for the fourth straight year and 16th time overall in the 18-year history of the event, will learn who their opponent in the championship contest will be following the conclusion of Friday’s elimination games.
Louisiana, the defending tournament champion, seeks its 14th SBC Tournament title.
The game will be broadcast on SportsRadio ESPN 1420-AM in the Acadiana region and the RadioPup app worldwide with Steve Peloquin calling the action. Live video will be provided by an ESPN3 broadcast that features play-by-play from Matt Stewart and analysis from three-time Florida Gators All-American Francesca Enea.
Friday’s win over Texas State (40-14) followed a similar script from Thursday’s tournament opener. Alex Stewart was strong again in the pitching circle and Aleah Craighton provided the key swings.
Craighton, who finished with three RBI for the second straight day, provided Louisiana with an early lead on a two-out RBI double in the first inning and created separation in the fifth inning with a two-run home run off of Randi Rupp that extended the margin to 5-1.
Stewart (24-3, 1.71 ERA) fought off early advances by the Bobcats and closed strong. After the Bobcats got a run back in the bottom of the second to trim the Louisiana lead to 3-1, she clamped down by retiring 15 of the final 17 batters she faced starting in the third inning through the end of the contest.
After holding Texas State to two runs off three hits and striking out seven, Stewart has now thrown 14 innings in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and yielded just two runs, five hits and struck out 20 (pitched two-hit shutout with career-high 13 strikeouts vs. South Alabama on Thursday).
Craighton (2-for-4, 3 RBI) homered for the third straight game dating back to the ULM series finale. She’s hit two home runs and posted six RBI over the first two outings this week in Troy.
Louisiana out-hit Texas State 10-3 and for the second straight day got contributions from all parts of the lineup. All nine Ragin’ Cajuns batters posted at least one base hit.
The Bobcats choice to work around DJ Sanders factored into Louisiana pulling ahead early. She scored from first base when with two outs Craighton’s double faded away from Bobcats right fielder Kennedy Cline, landed fair and hopped before it could be fielded.
Stewart worked around a leadoff walk and wild pitch which led to a runner on third with one out in the first inning to prevent the Bobcats from pulling even.
In the second inning the Cajuns used clutch two-out hitting again to extend their lead. Runs crossed with two outs after Kara Gremillion singled down the left field line and Sanders followed with a single into center field giving Louisiana a 3-0 lead.
A second early wave from Texas State came in the second inning when Jaelyn Young led off with a double into right center. The Bobcats got a run back on a two-out hit of their own as Bailee Carter’s looped a single just out of Kelli Martinez’s reach to score Young and trim the Cajuns lead to 3-1.
The Bobcats turned a double play in the top of the third inning to quickly return to the batter’s box. Stewart prevented any momentum shift by retiring the side in order on just six pitches in the bottom of the third to start her game-ending stranglehold.
Rupp and the Bobcats were able to keep their deficit at two runs until Craighton’s heroics in the fifth inning.
Stewart protected the lead by retiring the next eight batters –five by strikeout – until a pinch hit, solo home run from Alex Cruz with two outs in the seventh marked Texas State’s final tally.
– The Ragin’ Cajuns and Bobcats met in the winner’s bracket final of the Sun Belt Tournament for the second straight season (met in Mobile in 2016).
– Louisiana improved to 55-8 all-time in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
– Aleah Craighton’s home run in the fifth inning was her 18th of the season which equals her career-best output from 2016.
– Louisiana extended its current winning streak to 12 games – the last loss was 2-1 (8 inn.) at Texas State on April 15.
– Alex Stewart, who finished undefeated (15-0) in regular season Sun Belt Conference play, remained perfect against league foes this season. In 89-2/3 innings against SBC competition, she has limited the opposition to 22 runs (17 earned) and 53 hits.
– For the 22nd time in 24 starts, Alex Stewart held the opposition to two earned runs or fewer.
– The Ragin’ Cajuns have now scored in the first inning 26 times over 50 contests (26-0 in situation).
– Louisiana has collected 18 hits in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. Every player in the starting lineup has posted at least one hit.
– Louisiana’s pitching staff has held the opposition to two runs or fewer in 31 of 50 games.
– Kara Gremillion had her consecutive games reached base streak extended to 42 games after her RBI single in the second inning.
– Haley Hayden added another run to her season total, giving her 59 which leaves her one shy of a fourth straight season reaching 60. She extended her school-record leading career runs total to 248 which leaves her two shy of becoming only the 24th player in NCAA history to reach 250 career runs.
– With Friday’s win, it has now been 65 days since the Ragin’ Cajuns last loss in regulation play (March 9 vs. Baylor). Since then, the squad has won 27 of the last 28 games with the lone loss in extra innings (8 inn.) at Texas State on April 15.