Jay’s Memorable Moment #9 – Smiles All Around
Louisiana 6, Oregon 4
Titan Softball Complex, Fullerton, CA
May 18, 2003
I don’t broadcast much softball anymore, and frankly, I miss it.
By 2003, I was doing softball games that didn’t conflict with my baseball duties. When softball was on the radio and I had a conflict, Steve Peloquin did the games solo. Of course, Steve is now the voice of women’s sports at UL and does a terrific job.
We were rocking right along during the 2003 season, but in May, Steve was involved in an automobile accident and suffered a broken bone in his upper leg. The leg was not put in a cast and Steve continued working, using a walker and not putting any weight on the leg at all.
As the 2003 softball season drew to a close, we all still thought Steve would be able to do softball games in the regional, because we didn’t expect they’d be sent far.
Boy, were we wrong.
I remember the weekend the regional sites were announced. In fact, I’ll never forget it.
I was in Jonesboro, AR doing baseball when the word came that my wife and I would be the proud parents of twin girls. We had been looking to adopt for a few years and finally, the wait had paid off. The twins, nine days past their first birthday, were brought to us–on Mother’s Day weekend.
Needless to say, I left Jonesboro Sunday afternoon and sped home. Literally. In fact, I was wanted in four states.
And, it was during that drive home that I got word that Cajuns softball would be sent to Fullerton, CA for their regional.
That, of course, presented a dilemma. Baseball would be playing at home for the conference championship against arch-rival South Alabama that same weekend. But there was no way Steve would be able to fly. So, we made arrangements for Steve to do baseball and for someone to get him up and down the stairs to access the press box.
I took two days to get to know the twins and then headed to Fullerton.
This was when the NCAA expanded their field from 48 to 64 teams, but before they split into sixteen regionals and added the Super-Regionals. This would be an eight team, double elimination tournament.
Now, if you’re a fan of the Cajuns’ softball team, there’s one thing that has been pretty constant over the last decade-plus: The Cajuns are usually under-seeded. And, that was certainly the case that year. Despite a 42-8 record, the Cajuns received a #4 seed in the eight team regional. Host Cal-State Fullerton was seeded #1, Oklahoma State was #2 and Oregon out of the PAC-10 was #3. San Diego State, Penn State, Boston University and Rider rounded out the field.
The Cajuns opened the tournament with a 6-0 win over San Diego State as Brooke Mitchell pitched a no hitter, striking out six. The Cajuns broke open a close game with five runs in the sixth, highlighted by home runs from Becky McMurtry and Tiffany Grayson.
Next up was the top-seeded Titans. Again, it was Mitchell with the shutout, a two hitter with twelve strikeouts as the Cajuns got an unearned run in the second inning for a 1-0 win.
There were only two undefeated teams as Saturday dawned and the Cajuns faced the #2 seed Oklahoma State. This time Mitchell threw a one-hitter and struck out 10 and the Cajuns got another 1-0 win. The game’s only run scored in the top of the seventh when Jill Robertson scored from third on a wild pitch.
Three games. Three shutouts for Mitchell. Only three hits total for the opposition. Mitchell did not walk a batter in those 21 innings and struck out 28.
The Cajuns were in the finals where they would meet Oregon, who knocked out OSU 7-6 in 12 innings in Saturday’s nightcap. The Ducks would have to beat the Cajuns twice to deny Louisiana its first trip to the Women’s College World Series under coaches Mike and Stefni Lotief.
The way Mitchell was pitching, that was going to be a tall order.
But something went terribly wrong for Mitchell and the Cajuns. In the top of the first inning, Mitchell hit the first batter. After a sacrifice, she walked a batter.
And, she was done.
Mitchell had strained a bicep and had to leave the game. Andrea Vidlund greeted reliever Afton Thoms with a three run homer and Oregon led 3-0. Oregon scored in each of the first five innings off Thoms and Michael Parrott. It was an easy 9-2 win for the Ducks.
I remember saying after game one I didn’t see any way the Cajuns were going to be able to win game two without Mitchell.
Then, when the lineup for game two was brought upstairs, I was shocked to see Mitchell’s name. She received treatment during the rest of game one and pronounced herself fit to start game two.
It was obvious from the start Mitchell wasn’t the same pitcher we had seen during the first three games of the regional. She walked the first batter, who got as far as third base, but Mitchell worked out of it.
Her teammates had her back in the bottom of the inning.
Jill Robertson made the early statement by leading off with a home run to dead center field. Joy Webre drove in a run with a double. And, with two runners on, Tiffany Grayson, who had missed thirteen games with a bad back and was questionable for the regional, unloaded a three run blast to the opposite field to make the score 5-0.
But would it be enough?
Oregon touched Mitchell for three hits and two runs in the second to cut the lead to 5-2. Mitchell gave up a leadoff single in the third but worked around it. Then in the bottom of the third, Grayson unleashed her second homer to center field to push the Cajuns lead to 6-2.
Mitchell gave up three more hits in the fourth inning, but managed to escape without a run scoring. She gave up a leadoff double and a walk in the fifth, but again, didn’t allow a run. She was giving up hits. She was working deep into counts. But every time she needed to make a big pitch, she made one.
In the seventh, leading 6-2, things got dicey. A leadoff error was followed by a two run homer to cut the lead to 6-4. With one out, a walk and a single brought the potential winning run to the plate. But Mitchell bore down and got a popup and strikeout to end it and send the Cajuns to the Women’s College World Series for the fourth time in program history.
In one of the more courageous performances you’ll ever see, Mitchell gave up ten hits. She walked three and struck out just four. She threw 125 pitches. She was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Grayson was the batting star for the Cajuns. She hit .385, the only Cajuns player to hit over .250 in the tournament. She homered three times and drove in seven. And, amazingly, she was not named to the all-tournament team.
We were going to stay on the air for a good while after the game was over. I wanted to get Stef and Brooke on the radio, but they both had to go to the media room. I asked Matt Hebert to get me Summar Lapeyrouse while waiting.
And, there was a reason why. Here’s where the story gets personal.
When my (now) adult children were younger, I was heavily involved with the baseball and softball rec programs at SLYSI. I served as president for a couple of years and then was the program chairman for softball. Now, this was before fast-pitch was a part of the summer program. One of our coaches was Jimmy Clarke. Jimmy had a daughter, Jessica, who was nine years old. She is now Dr. Jessica Leger, who is the Senior Women’s Administrator at UL. He also had another player he introduced me to.
Her name was Summar Lapeyrouse. She, too was nine at the time. And, even back then, she was always smiling. I’d see her at the park frequently during the summer months and every time I did, she’d flash that big smile. Jimmy told me she’d be special. And, a dozen years later, in her senior season of college, she was on her way to softball Mecca. Summar played two years at third base, then moved to first base to make way for a transfer named Becky McMurtry, who of course, was an All-American.
I went into a commercial break and about the time we got back on the air, Summar arrived. She put on the headphones and I introduced her. I turned to ask her the first question.
And, she smiled at me.
And, at that moment, I didn’t see a college senior.
I saw a nine year old little girl.
The lump came into my throat and wouldn’t go away. I turned away from Summar to try and get it together and she put her hand on my shoulder, which only made things worse. Finally, after about ten seconds passed, I was finally able to ask her a question. We got through the rest of the time together and I enjoyed those five or six minutes.
I went to another break and Brooke came up. Needless to say, she was smiling, too.
Steve, since a plane wasn’t necessary, was able to go to Oklahoma City for the World Series. That was a good thing, since my youngest son was graduating high school during the series. I stayed home and did the conference baseball tournament, which was in Lafayette.
A little less than two years ago, I got a wedding invitation in the mail. I was being invited to Summar’s wedding to Stewart Childress. My schedule wouldn’t allow me to make it to the reception, but I went to the wedding. About ten minutes before it started, I saw a woman with a big smile heading my way.
It was Brooke Mitchell Garrity. The last time I had seen her was just a couple of months earlier when she was inducted into the UL Hall of Fame. We hugged and chatted for awhile. It was then time for the ceremony to start.
And, I watched Summar as she was escorted down the aisle by her dad, Mark.
And, as always, she was smiling.