CONWAY, Ark. – The third-seeded Lamar University Cardinals overcame a rocky start to claim a 4-2 win over the sixth-seeded Northwestern State Lady Demons in the opening game of the Southland Conference Softball Tournament on Wednesday. With the win, the Cardinals advanced to meet second-seeded Nicholls at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Northwestern State (22-32-1) jumped into a 1-0 lead just two batters into the contest, as Sidney Salmans led off with a triple before scoring on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Hailee Rhodes.
“That’s definitely not the start we wanted, but maybe that was the kick in the butt we needed,” LU coach Holly Bruder said. “I like the way we responded.”
The Cardinals (28-26) responded with a run of their own in the first as Brittany Rodriguez singled before eventually scoring on Sable Hankins’ sacrifice fly.
LU took the lead for good in the bottom of the third as Hankins led off with a double and came in to score on a Kelly Meeuwsen grounder. The Cardinals increased their lead to 4-1 in the fourth as Rodriguez ripped a two-run double to center field to score Shelby Hughston and Ashley McDowell.
Brittany Jones hit a solo home run in the top of the fifth to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 4-2, but LU starter Ciara Luna (13-15) held the Lady Demons scoreless the rest of the way.
“Getting that opening win is huge,” Bruder said. “It’s tough to go into the losers’ bracket and win five straight games to win the tournament.”
Luna pitched a complete game, scattering four hits, allowing two runs, both earned. She walked one and struck out four. McDowell and Rodriguez had two hits apiece for the Cardinals. McDowell boosted her career total to 193 hits, one shy of the LU record of 194 held by Stephanie Meeuwsen.
Northwestern State starter Mikayla Brown (14-14) took the loss, allowing six hits and four runs, all earned in 3 2/3 innings. She walked three and struck out one. Katelyn Boles allowed one hit in 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief for the Lady Demons.
LU improved to 4-0 vs. Northwestern State this season, having swept a three-game series to open Southland Conference play in March at the LU Softball Complex.
“It’s always tough to beat a team four times,” Bruder said. “Northwestern State gave us some tough games this season, and today was no different. This was a good win for us.”
Northwestern State dropped to the losers’ bracket, where it will face an undetermined opponent at 12:30 p.m. Thursday.
GAME TWO VS NICHOLLS
CONWAY, Ark. – If the Lamar University Cardinals are going to claim their first-ever Southland Conference Softball Tournament title, they are going to have to win five straight games to do so.
The third-seeded Cardinals fell into the losers’ bracket after dropping a 2-1 decision to the second-seeded Nicholls Colonels on Wednesday, as Nicholls capitalized on three LU errors to score a pair of unearned runs to spoil the second solid complete-game effort of the day from LU right-hander Ciara Luna.
The Cardinals (28-27) will face fifth-seeded Central Arkansas, the host team, in an elimination game at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Luna, who threw a four-hitter earlier in the day in LU’s 4-2 win over Northwestern State, threw another four-hitter against the Colonels, striking out seven.
“You can’t ask much more from your starting pitcher,” LU coach Holly Bruder said of Luna. “To throw a four-hitter against the second-seeded team in the tournament is impressive. Unfortunately, we made some costly errors and couldn’t come up with the timely hits.”
Neither team could get much going throughout the first four innings, as Luna limited Nicholls to one hit, while Nicholls starter Megan Landry had a no-hitter through four innings. The Cardinals had a glorious scoring opportunity in the fourth with Ashley McDowell on first base after a leadoff walk. With two outs, LU’s Sable Hankins ripped a shot toward the gap in right-center. McDowell, who was running on the pitch, was nearing third base when Nicholls center fielder Kasey Frederick made a lunging backhand grab of the ball to rob Hankins of at least a run-scoring double.
Nicholls (36-18) scored a pair of runs in the fifth inning after a pair of costly LU errors. Gretchen Morgan had an RBI single and Sydney Bourg had a two-out RBI double for the Colonels.
The Cardinals threatened in the seventh as Kelly Meeuwsen led off with a double and scored on a one-out single by Shelby Henderson. Landry got out of the inning by getting Elizabeth Castillo to pop up before Shelby Henderson was just nipped at first base on a great throw by Bourg from third base to end the game.
Meeuwsen had two of LU’s four hits, while Henderson and Brittany Rodriguez had the others.
“We put ourselves in a tough position,” Bruder said. “It won’t be easy, but we just have to take it one game at a time.”
The winner of Thursday’s 10 a.m. game will play again at 5:30 p.m. for a spot in the semifinals, while the loser sees its title hopes end.
LU took two of three games from Central Arkansas earlier this season at the LU Softball Complex.