@LATechSB Falls in Extra Innings to No. 1 Minnesota
May 21, 2017
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Louisiana Tech took No. 1 ranked Minnesota into extra innings before the Gophers (56-4) scored three runs in the top of the ninth to defeat the Lady Techsters (38-24) 5-2 at Rhoads Stadium Sunday afternoon in the Tuscaloosa Regional.
Two days after playing out-of-character in an 11-3 loss to Minnesota, Louisiana Tech stood tall Sunday, playing cleat-to-cleat with the Gophers in the elimination game.
“This was more the team I thought we would show at this regional,” said Tech head coach Mark Montgomery. “I thought we left it all out on the field. Pitching gave us a great performance and a chance. We didn’t have as many hits as we would like but I thought we had a good approach. I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”
The game had a little bit of everything, including a flare for the dramatic – something that the Lady Techsters have provided plenty of during the last few weeks of the season. This time it was provided by sophomore Taria Page who provided the heroics in the bottom of the seventh.
Trailing 2-1 and down to its final strike, Page sent a full-count pitch from Minnesota All-American pitcher Sara Groenewegen deep over the right field wall to tie the game at 2-2. It was only the seventh home run surrendered by Groenewegen in over 200 innings of work this year, and it was the fifth of the year for Page.
“I slowed the game down like people say to,” said Page about the at bat. “The game seemed like it almost stopped. I saw the ball, but when the ball came across the plate, after that my mind went blank. Next thing I knew I was rounding first and I saw everyone at home plate. I really did blank out for a good three seconds.”
Tech’s dugout erupted onto the field awaiting Page at home plate as she rounded the bases, a smile tattooed on her face.
“(Holding her out of the lineup) was tough,” Montgomery said. “When Katie Smith came back, we had a hot Ali Galaz. My decision was where do I go for our offense. I have four outfielders that I would love to bat. We have to make tough choices. I had planned to pick my moment with Taria to get a quality moment to where she could drive in more than one run. You aren’t going to go down with one of your best at bats not getting a chance to hit. When it became game on-the-line, last at bat potential, it’s now or nothing. Did I see a home run? No. But is she someone who can hit a home run? Absolutely. We were trying to save her for the moment when we had two or three runners on, but we never got that chance.
“You don’t witness our everyday practices. That kid is one of the phenomenal hitters in the nation. She is hitting with a bulging disc in her back, a herniated disc. We have done multiple things just to make it through the season. When she is healthy, that kid is 25 or 30 home run kid and I’m not playing. She has been slowed down by that injury. We try to limit what she does in a DP role.”
Sophomore hurdler Preslee Gallaway got the start in the circle for Tech and worked 6.1 strong innings. The Pilot Point, Texas native allowed two runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out four batters. Gallaway, who had tossed 6.1 innings in Tech’s 8-1 win over Albany 16 hours earlier, kept the dangerous Minnesota lineup in check.
“She has had those games in her,” said Montgomery. “She doesn’t have the best record on our team, but she has thrown the most innings. She usually draws everyone’s ace in conference play at least once. We threw her a lot of the early games against the power 5 teams. A lot of those loses – she lost to Texas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State – where she honestly kept us in those games with a chance to win. We are so proud of her.”
Gallaway held the Gophers scoreless through the first three innings, allowing Louisiana Tech to settle in for the long haul. Her defense helped her early as Tori Charters, Karlee Jensen, Katie Smith and even Gallaway herself made spectacular plays in the field that took hits away and kept Minnesota off the board, something that didn’t go unnoticed by the Tech pitcher.
“They were awesome,” said Gallaway. “They all did outstanding today. I thanked them a million times and I couldn’t have done it without them today.”
Tech had an opportunity in the bottom of the first to take an early lead as Jazlyn Crowder doubled to left centerfield to start the frame. However, Crowder was stranded on third as Minnesota starter Amber Fiser recorded a pair of strikeouts and a fly out.
Minnesota finally found the scoreboard in the top of the fourth on a two-out single up the middle by Groenewegen, scoring Maddie Houlihan from second base. The Gophers led 1-0. It would be short-lived.
Tech answered in its half of the fourth. After Fiser retired the first two batters of the inning, Ali Galaz stepped to the plate and belted a pitch deep over the centerfield fence, tying the game at 1-1. The home run was the fourth of the season for Galaz and the only home run allowed by Fiser in 87.2 innings this season.
The score remained tied at 1-1 until the top of the seventh inning. Groenewegen led the frame off with a walk – the first only one issued by Gallaway in the game – and then with one out, scored from first on an RBI double by shortstop Allie Arneson.
The run-scoring hit drove Gallaway from the game as Bailey Allen came on in relief. Allen walked the first batter she faced before getting two straight outs, striking out Minnesota All-American Kendyl Lindaman for the final out.
Groenewegen, who came on in relief of Fiser to start the sixth, appeared ready to record her second save of the season, striking out Pauline Tufi and Ali Galaz for the first two outs of the frame. However, Page – who had a pinch hit RBI single in the win over Albany – had other plans.
After falling behind in the count 0-2, the Anchorage, Alaska native worked the count full against the Minnesota ace, setting the stage for the next pitch.
“I don’t know (what the pitch was),” said Page. “I want to say curve. It was outside. I was shaking. Every one said ‘You were so composed. You look like you knew what you were doing.’ My whole body was jittery and I was really shaking in the box.”
The score remained tied until the top of the ninth when Minnesota plated three runs on six hits, taking the 5-2 lead. It was simply too much to overcome this time as Groenewegen set Tech down in order in the bottom of the frame.
Although the loss ended the Tech season, Montgomery said he felt that his team’s performance this weekend brought some much-deserved exposure to the program.
“I know this region has the national spotlight on it,” said Montgomery. “I thought we not only hung with but played extremely well against the No. 1 team in the nation. I can’t ask for anything more. As we continue to grow as a program, the sky is the limit. We have some quality seniors, but we have some underclassman on the field today that I hope will continue to work hard and grow their game and get us back here.”
The contest was the final collegiate one for Tori Charters, Pauline Tufi, Natalie Moran and Jessica Ball who ended their Lady Techster careers. After winning only 19 games as freshmen in 2014, the foursome doubled that total this year.
“We will miss this senior group,” said Montgomery. “They were my first recruiting class at Tech and they helped us during some difficult times in those early years. I am so proud of them and happy they got to go out on this stage with such a gutsy performance.”
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