The East Carolina softball team took an early lead in its 2008 NCAA Tournament opener against No. 16 UL-Lafayette, but could not hold off the Ragin Cajuns as it fell 2-1 in the opening game of the Baton Rouge Regional inside Tiger Park. The Pirates fall to 36-29 on the season while UL-Lafayette improves to 47-12. The Ragin Cajuns move on to the winners bracket to face the winner of Friday’s second contest between No. 9 national seed LSU and Mississippi Valley State.
After Charina Sumner grounded out to lead off the game, Christina Merrida struck out swinging but reached first safely due to a wild pitch by Cajuns starter Donna Bourgeois. The next batter, Vanessa Moreno, then grounded out, allowing Merrida to advance to second. Stacey Andrews would come through an at bat later as she poked a single through the left side that scored Merrida, giving ECU a 1-0 advantage.
UL-Lafayette responded in the bottom half of the first. Vallie Gaspard led off the half-inning with a bunt single before Karli Hubbard grounded out to third. Vanessa Soto tied the game on the next at bat, lacing a single through the middle that scored Gaspard from second.
The Ragin Cajuns threatened in the bottom of the third as they put runners on first and second with outs. However, Pirate hurler Brooke Swann induced a flyout from Lana Bowers to get out of the jam. East Carolina showed a flash of its solid defense in the bottom of the fourth when it recorded a strikeout-throw out double play, capped off with a nice throw from Moreno to Paige Baggett that caught Brooke Broadhead stealing second.
A rare error by the Pirates proved costly in the bottom of the fifth. Gaspard led off the inning by hitting a ground ball to Swann but her throw went awry, allowing Gaspard to sit at first safely. After Hubbard grounded out to short, Soto came through again, singling through the middle to score the winning run and close the scoring at 2-1. The Pirates had a chance to tie the game in the top of the sixth as Sumner reached first via an error on the second baseman. However, she would only reach third as two groundouts ended the ECU threat.
Swann took the tough loss but threw her 29th complete game of the season in her 52nd appearance. Her record drops to 24-20 as she gave up just one earned run on seven hits while striking out two.
“I thought our team was prepared,” said head coach Tracey Kee. “We faced a team that has been to the NCAA Tournament 10 years in a row and I think we came out where we needed to be. It was a close ball game and I was pleased with the team’s energy and effort. The game could have gone either way.”
The Pirates return to action at the Baton Rouge Regional tomorrow as they face the loser of Friday’s second game between the Tigers and the Delta Devilettes at 5 p.m. ET inside Tiger Park.