Stewart’s no-hitter highlights Cajuns win over Cowboys in Baton Rouge Regional opener

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Game 1: Friday 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
#3 McNeese St. 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
#2 UL-Lafayette 0 0 0 2 3 1 X 6 4 0

BATON ROUGE – Alex Stewart pitched the third NCAA postseason no-hitter in Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Softball history in a 6-0 win over McNeese on Friday at Tiger Park in the opening round of the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional.

With the win, No. 14 Louisiana (46-6) advanced to the 12 p.m. winner’s bracket final contest on Saturday to face the LSU-Fairfield winner.

Stewart (26-3, 1.57 ERA), who pitched shutout softball for the seventh time in the past eight starts, retired the Cowgirls in order four times and struck out six in collecting her first career no-hitter. She joins Cheryl Longeway (1995 vs. Michigan at WCWS) and Brooke Mitchell (2003 vs. San Diego State at Cal State Fullerton Regional) in achieving the feat in the NCAA Tournament.

The Ragin’ Cajuns outfielders made three critical catches to help Stewart secure the no-hitter. Aleah Craighton robbed Morgan Catron of a would-be home run in the second inning, then in the sixth inning Kelli Martinez and Haley Hayden made diving catches on shallow fly balls.

“That no-hitter is a credit to my teammates,” Stewart said postgame reflecting on the performance. “They took away hits with fantastic Top 10 plays. I just can’t say enough about my defense.”

It was a scoreless, hitless affair between the Ragin’ Cajuns and Cowgirls through the first 3-1/2 innings of play. Craighton recorded the game’s first hit with a single to lead off the bottom of the 4th and the tie was broken three batters later when Corin Voinchè doubled down the left field line for a 2-0 lead.

“First round games are always a war,” Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Softball head coach Michael Lotief said. “I’m proud of my kids and proud of the way they competed. Alex battled, gutted it out and her teammates played well behind her.

Louisiana was able to create breathing room for Stewart in the fifth inning. Hayden singled into right field where the ball was misplayed, the Cowgirls second error of the frame, allowing Kara Gremillion (fielder’s choice) and DJ Sanders (fielding error) to cross home plate and extend the lead to 4-0.

Hayden later scored in the fifth on a Lexie Comeaux ground out and Martinez scored on a wild pitch in the sixth inning to complete the scoring.

Stewart worked around a leadoff hit by pitch and two-out walk in the seventh to preserve the shutout and etch her name in the Ragin’ Cajuns history book.

DIAMOND NOTES
– Louisiana began its 19th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Softball Tournament and 27th overall in the past 28 years.
– The Ragin’ Cajuns and Cowgirls met in the NCAA Softball Tournament for the first time since the 1994 NCAA Lafayette Regional.
– Louisiana won its opening contest in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight season. The program improved to 60-32 in the regional round which includes a 26-5 mark dating back to 2008.
– Louisiana’s all-time NCAA Softball Tournament record improved to 72-55.
– Alex Stewart extended her personal winning streak to 19 games. She’s been undefeated in the circle since falling on March 9 vs. Baylor at Lamson Park.
– Louisiana extended its winning streak to 14 games and h now won 29 of the past 30 games since last losing a game of regulation length on March 9 vs. Baylor.

2017 Baton Rouge Softball Regional
Game 1- McNeese vs. UL-Lafayette

UL-LAFAYETTE POSTGAME QUOTES

ULL HEAD COACH MICHAEL LOTIEF OPENING STATEMENT
“For all the people from back home, I told you so, the first round games are always a war, and the second round games are always a war. The last round — it’s always a war. I’m proud of my kids, proud of the way they competed. Put it there, sister (high-fives Stewart). And then Alex battled. I just love them. I love this team. I wrote a letter, and I put it in my desk before we left. It reminded me how much I love this team and why I love them because how they fight and how they scrap. They never played perfect. They just keep fighting and just keep loving each other. And the most unlikely hero is Corin Voinche, coming up there. She talks about knowing what I’m doing and all this stuff, all this experience, and I can’t even make a sub the right way. So credit to these kids. Credit to our fan base. Came out to support them and love them. And now we ease into it, and I know you want to start talking about LSU. So let’s do it.”

Q: Just talk about pitching in the game. It was hot. It was swirling. How did you feel? Talk about what you just did.
STEWART
“Well, yeah, it’s hot. I don’t feel my best, but you have to find other ways to win. That no-hitter is a credit to my teammates. They took away hits with fantastic top ten plays. I just can’t say enough about my defense. So that’s them. That’s not me. Yeah, that’s it.”

Q: What was going through your mind when that ball is in the air?
CRAIGHTON: Well, it was in the air, so I think I got to go get it. I saw it, and I think the wind blew it back a little bit. So my main focus was just don’t drop it.

Q. Aleah, this team has been doing it either with pitching or with big hits. For the defense to really shine today, what does it mean about how well rounded this team is?
CRAIGHTON: It’s just that we work hard at practice. We do defense. We do take the reps. It’s not about hitting for us. We take the time out to worry about what matters most. Defense does one game. So that’s what we do.

Q. Aleah, Alex’s performance in the circle, how common is that? Is that just what you guys expect from her? Or what did you think getting a no-hitter today?
CRAIGHTON: Yeah, we expect that from her, but as long as she goes up there and she competes and she does her best, it doesn’t matter what happens. We expect her to compete and to do her best, and that’s all we expect.

Q. Alex, McNeese’s first four hitters of the lineup, that’s not an easy lineup to halt. How did you do it? What was the game plan for that?
STEWART: Well, Coach Mike, he scouts them, and he does a really good job of pitch calling. So just changing speeds on occasions and trusting the defense. Yeah, just going at them. Just trust the defense.

Q. Coach, looking forward now, the potential for the first game against LSU since 2013, the first question is how hard have you tried to schedule the Tigers over the past couple of years in the regular season?
LOTIEF: I told you I’m trying to be nice. I don’t know how to answer that question. Look, LSU has an incredible program. I admitted to the press before I came up here I’ve caused a lot of the drama. Probably I’ve caused my share of it. I’m in a different stage of my life. Hopefully, we’re at a different stage, and the sport has grown. What we’re trying to do as bearers of this sport and people that are trying to grow the sport, we’ve got other issues to fight. That’s what we’re talking about. We’ve got issues to fight about equity. We’ve got issues to fight about opportunities for female athletes. We’ve got issues to fight about growing our sport. We’re not — I’m going to spend the years I’ve got left fighting for those issues and just play the game on the field. We would love to play LSU on a regular basis, but if we do or we don’t, they have a great program, and we’ve got a great program. No matter what happens tomorrow, what happened ten years ago, they’re going to have a great program, and we’re going to have a great program.

Q. Mike, Alex threw the third no-hitter in postseason play in Cajuns history, joins Brooke Mitchell and Cheryl Longeway. Those are two pretty big names. What’s so impressive to you about her effort today?
MICHAEL LOTIEF: You know, she didn’t have her A-game, and she gutted it out, and the kids played well behind her. We talked about that before we came in, you’re not going to have your A-game. You’ve got to play with some gumption. You’ve got to play with some fight. This kid’s a warrior, man. She deserves to be on that list with them. She’s a warrior, and we bet on her for the last two years. So however the game rewards her and whatever accolades come her way, trust me, she’s earned it.

Q. Alex, the strike zone seemed a little tight for you early. Were you worried about the strike zone and the amount of walks and how many pitches you were having to throw? And, Mike, if she didn’t have a no-hitter, would you have taken her out to conserve some pitches?
MICHAEL LOTIEF: No, we’re not going to talk about the strike zone, you know that. Look, she’s sitting right behind me smiling.

Q. No, I’m just saying, were you worried early about having to throw a lot of extra pitches?
ALEX STEWART: No, I never think that way. I was wild today. I’ll tell you that my stuff — I could have commanded my pitches better. So that’s on me.
MICHAEL LOTIEF: This week we love the umpires, man. I was not going to take her out. Like we just talked about, McNeese has an incredible lineup, and just getting out and getting through that lineup and getting on the bus.

Q. This is for Alex and Aleah. What does it mean for you to, I guess, this prospect of playing LSU potentially tomorrow for the first time in five years?
ALEAH CRAIGHTON: We’re not really worried who’s in the other dugout. We’re worrying about every pitch. So if we compete by pitch, it doesn’t matter who’s standing in the other dugout.

McNeese Head Coach James Landreneau

Opening Statement
“First of all, you have to start off by just tipping your hat to UL. They played an outstanding game. Stewart pitched — no hits, just right there. We put some good at bats together early in the game, and they played great defense. At the end of the day, they made plays, and we didn’t make the plays we needed to make to win the game. Four errors, six walks against a great team like that, it’s going to be very tough to win, especially when you have someone in the circle that’s pitching the way she did tonight.”

Coach, Alex’s performance in the circle, obviously, she pitched well, but there were some spectacular defensive plays too. Those ones that you’re going, man, if those fall, it’s a total outcome of the game could be different.

“Yeah, you hate to get into that what if game, and I could tell today — they played outstanding defense today. That’s what wins games. That’s what wins championships is defense. They played it today. So they deserve it.”

Coach, for you, how difficult is it to go against a lineup like the Ragin’ Cajuns?

“It’s difficult. We knew they were a quality team coming in. Their record speaks for itself. They have an explosive offense. But I think all in all our pitchers did a good job of handling that situation. I’d like to see us make some defensive plays behind them and not let that lineup turn over so many times.”

What was it specifically about the catch taking away the home run? Talk about chemistry on the plays here and there. Your team takes some momentum hit early. What does that (inaudible) look like, when you look back at not getting a run?

“That’s a good question. We’ll never really know that. We’d like to have that ball for us. But, again, what’s happened has happened. She made a good play, and we’ve got to be able to recover from that.”

Coach, kind of an uncharacteristic night for you guys on defense. What kind of led to that? Do you think it was kind of the moment, or what do you think went into that?

“You know, I can’t really put a finger on it right now. You’re right. It’s uncharacteristic of us to make — to kick balls down like that. This team is going to be fine. We’ve been in a situation where maybe things didn’t go our way and we rebounded well. This team is tough. They showed it all year long, and they’ll be ready to play tomorrow.”

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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