SOFTBALL: Craighton and Stewart key series-sweeping win at ULM

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MONROE – Aleah Craighton homered twice and Alex Stewart pitched a shutout for a fourth consecutive start as 15th-ranked Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Softball closed the regular season with an 8-0 (6 inn.) win over ULM on Sunday at Geo-Surfaces Field.

Louisiana (42-6, 23-1 Sun Belt) completed the series sweep of ULM (29-26, 11-16 Sun Belt) – the fifth straight season sweeping the series. The Ragin’ Cajuns entered the day with the series win in hand, the 37th consecutive SBC series win dating back to March 2013, after claiming a 4-0, 6-5 doubleheader victory on Saturday.

Craighton’s first homer jumpstarted a five-spot in the fourth inning that ended a scoreless pitcher’s duel between Stewart and ULM’s Melanie Coyne. In her next at bat, she led off the fifth inning with a solo home run as the Ragin’ Cajuns continued to add to their lead.

For Craighton, the home run output marked her sixth career multiple home run game and boosted her total in Sun Belt Conference play this season to 12 home runs.

Stewart limited the Warhawks to four hits in the six-inning blanking as she improved to 22-3 overall and finished 15-0 in Sun Belt Conference play. Her career Sun Belt Conference regular season record finishes at 36-1.

Louisiana returns to action and begins postseason play on Thursday at 10 a.m. in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in Troy, Ala., against an opponent that will be determined by first round play on Wednesday.

Haley Hayden (2-for-4, 2 runs, double) and Daniella Chavez (2-for-3) joined Craighton in posting a multiple-hit game. Hayden reached 60 base hits for the fourth straight season when she doubled with two outs in the sixth.

Stewart, who pitched a shutout in all four starts over the Cajuns final two Sun Belt series, closed out the regular season holding foes to three earned runs and just 18 hits over the final 37-1/3 innings she pitched in Sun Belt Conference play.

Louisiana threatened in the first inning as Kara Gremillion led off with a double down the left field line and DJ Sanders was hit by a pitch. Coyne was able to retire the next three Cajun hitters, beginning a string of nine straight retired which kept the hosts in the game until Louisiana’s fourth-inning outburst.

Stewart worked around two-out singles by ULM in the first and second, then after an illegal pitch moved a runner into scoring position in the third inning she retired the next two Warhawks hitters on fly outs to center field to keep the game scoreless.

Hayden led off the top of the fourth with an infield single and Craighton followed with her 15th home run of the season giving the Cajuns a 2-0 lead and ending Coyne’s stronghold. Louisiana manufactured three more runs before the Warhawks could escape the frame.

Stewart retired the Warhawks in order in the bottom of the fourth, for her first perfect inning of the game which kept the momentum on the Cajuns side.

Craighton led off the Cajuns half of the fifth with her second home run of the game to left field, her 16th round tripper of the season. Kelli Martinez slapped an RBI single into left field to add another run in the inning and give Louisiana a 7-0 lead.

Hayden’s double, which gave her 60 base hits for the fourth straight season, set up a two-out rally in the sixth that led to the run rule margin. After an intentional walk to Craighton, Hayden scored from second on a Lexie Comeaux single to left field.

Stewart fended off a pair of scoring chances by ULM over the final two innings to preserve the pitching staff’s 14th shutout of the season.

After pinch hitter Brittani Johnson sacrificed runners to second and third with one out in the bottom of the fifth, Stewart was able to retire the next two ULM hitters. In the sixth inning after runners reached on an error and walk during a relief appearance by Summer Ellyson, she re-entered and struck out pinch hitter Brie Wrobel to end the game.

– Louisiana extended its series win streak over ULM to 18 games and upped its lead in the all-time series to 105-27.
– Aleah Craighton’s solo homer in the fifth inning was the Ragin’ Cajuns 80th homer of the season, marking the fifth straight season (eighth time overall) that the program reaches 80 home runs under Michael Lotief’s guidance.
– Haley Hayden’s hits breakdown of reaching 60 hits each season of her career includes: 70 in 2014, 69 in 2015, 70 in 2016 and presently 60 in 2017.
– Haley Hayden increased her career hits total to 269 which leaves her seven hits shy of reaching the Top 5 on the program’s career hits list (5th place is Jana Mower at 276 hits).
– Kara Gremillion’s leadoff double in the first inning extended her streak of consecutive games reaching base to 40 straight. She’s been aboard the base path every game since Feb. 19 vs. Alabama.
– Alex Stewart held the opposition to two earned runs or fewer for the 20th time in 22 starts. She’s yielded just 30 earned runs over 117-1/3 innings pitched.
– The Ragin’ Cajuns pitching staff ended the regular season limiting foes to two runs or fewer in 29 of 48 games.
– Alex Stewart was the lone pitcher in the Sun Belt Conference with 15-plus appearances to finish with an undefeated mark (went 15-0 with 1.39 ERA in SBC play). The senior pitcher held Sun Belt foes to 20 runs (15 earned) and 48 hits over 75-2/3 innings of work in league action.
– Louisiana remained undefeated (37-0) when plating six or more runs.

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