BEAUMONT, Texas – It all comes down to one game on Saturday afternoon.
After splitting a doubleheader on Friday, the Lamar University Cardinals and Nicholls Colonels will square off at 1 p.m. Saturday with the winner earning the No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that goes along with it in next week’s Southland Conference Tournament. LU won Friday’s first game 8-0 in five innings before Nicholls held on for a 5-2 win in the nightcap as the Cardinals left the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh. The loser of Saturday’s game will be the No. 3 seed in the six-team tournament that starts Wednesday in Conway, Ark.
“We’re going to treat Saturday’s game like a championship game,” LU coach Holly Bruder said. “It’s two very good teams going at it. Two teams that could meet in the tournament championship. It should be a great game.
The Cardinals (27-25 overall, 17-8 Southland) wasted no time in taking command of the opening game, sending nine batters to the plate in the first inning to take a 3-0 lead. The Cardinals added three more in the third and single runs in the fourth and fifth innings to end the game on the run rule.
That was more than enough support for LU starter Ciara Luna, who allowed just one hit, a third inning single by Brooklyn Devine that bounced over the head of third baseman Sable Hankins. Luna walked one and struck out two. Her first strikeout was the 227th of her career, surpassing Shannon Millman for the all-time LU record.
Hankins and Kelly Meeuwsen had two hits apiece for the Cardinals, while Shelby Henderson drove in two runs.
Jackie Johnson (17-11) started and took the loss for the Colonels, allowing seven hits and seven runs, six earned, in four innings. Sydnee Council allowed one hit and one run in 2/3 of an inning of relief.
The Cardinals jumped out to an early lead in the second game as well, as Ashley McDowell led off with a single, eventually scoring on Meeuwsen’s sacrifice fly. The Cardinals would not get another hit off Nicholls starter Megan Landry until Brittany Rodriguez led off the sixth with a bunt single.
LU starter Laura Napoli went the first four innings, allowing five hits, but no runs, as Nicholls stranded six runners over the first four innings. The Colonels got to Luna, who came on in relief in the fifth, with two runs in both the sixth and seventh innings. Nicholls had 13 hits on the game, stranding 12 runners.
“You’re not going to win too many games when you give up 13 hits,” Bruder said. “It doesn’t help when you give up runs late in the game.”
The Cardinals threatened in the seventh, drawing four walks in the inning, cutting the lead to 4-2 before Meeuwsen’s deep smash to right field was knocked down by the wind into the hands of Samantha Mracich to end the game.
“We made some adjustments too late,” Bruder said. “But I give Landry credit. She is a great pitcher.”
Luna (12-15) took the loss, allowing seven hits and four runs, all earned, in two innings of relief. Anissa Rodriguez pitched one scoreless inning of relief for LU.
“Nicholls did a good job of making adjustments to Luna,” Bruder said. “We’re going to have to do that tomorrow.”
Following Saturday’s game, the Cardinals will honor Baca, Luna and McDowell in Senior Day ceremonies.