Wallace ready to lead La.Lafayette in super regional
The adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But what if you can break it and make it better? That’s the question Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Michael Lotief posed to his star pitcher, Jordan Wallace, after the Ragin’ Cajuns ended last season losing to Arizona State in the NCAA Tempe Super Regional.
|JORDAN WALLACE -- 2013 STAT HIGHLIGHTS|
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Wallace, who Lotief described as “under-recruited,” had a phenomenal freshman season. She garnered 2012 Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year honors after compiling a 27-2 record and 2.26 ERA, and setting an NCAA freshman record as she started her career with 21 consecutive victories. The Cajuns won the SBC title and played host to an NCAA regional, advancing to the super regional in Tempe. Wallace pitched a two-hit shutout in the opener against ASU, leading Louisiana to a 6-0 victory, but when she returned in the third game of the series, the Sun Devils roughed her up for eight runs on 11 hits in six innings of an 8-0 contest.
“When we ended last year against Arizona State, it was kind of a mixed bag,” Lotief said. “She had success in the first game and basically baffled their hitters. But on the second day, Arizona State hitters made some adjustments and got to her. As we went into the offseason, we started talking about how she accomplished so much, but as we do in this program, we tried to set the bar higher and make her understand she could be better and reach higher.”
Wallace got on board with the coaching staff as they started the process of tinkering with her mechanics and changing her repertoire.
“It took a lot of trust on her part to go through trial and error,” Lotief said. “There was risk involved, too. She’d already had a lot of success. If we started tinkering with it, it may get worse before it got better. She took a leap of faith.”
“Coach Mike outsourced and brought in an expert pitching coach and we worked on a more efficient way to pitch with less stress on my shoulder,” Wallace said. “He had me watching videos, trying to reinvent the way I was throwing pitches. Our assistant coach Josh Johnson even had me looking at men’s fast-pitch for some things to try.”
While Wallace worked on changes in the fall of her sophomore season, she was still struggling for everything to come together in the beginning of the spring.
Early on, Wallace went backward. Lotieff discussed the situation with his wife, Stefni, a former All-American pitcher and his co-head coach at Louisiana for the 12 previous seasons.
“Stefni was always giving me the opinion we needed to be very considerate of the fact we were trying to make changes to a kid in the middle the season … that’s hard to do,” Lotief said. “In major-league baseball, they send them down to the minor leagues. This kid was doing it out in front of everybody. People were saying, ‘What’s wrong?’ ”
But despite Wallace’s growing pains, Lotief focused on the light at the end of the tunnel.
“You could see in the bullpen sessions she was able to do it, but it wasn’t transferring to the actual games,” Lotief said. “When you get in a game, you want to go back to your comfort zone. I wouldn’t let her go backward. The cost was taking some losses early, but the benefits would be in the postseason. I was thinking maybe by then we will have established a muscle memory protocol that can beat an Arizona State-type team if we get to that situation again.”
On March 16, Wallace was 10-6 with a 2.48 ERA (her highest of the season) and was coming off a 7-3 loss to South Alabama. The very next day something clicked in the final game of the series against the Jaguars. She held South Alabama to one run on five hits in a 2-1 victory, while striking out 15 and walking none.
Since Wallace’s breakthrough performance on March 17, she has put together a 21-1 record and lowered her ERA to 1.73. Her only loss was an eight-inning, 1-0 setback to eventual league champion South Alabama in the Sun Belt tournament on May 9. She gave up just one hit in the contest, and fanned 10 batters.
Last weekend at the Baton Rouge Regional, Wallace notched three consecutive shutouts, including a pair of victories against No. 10 LSU, earning the regional’s most outstanding player award. She gave up just seven hits and struck out 25 batters in 21 innings of work as the Cajuns advanced to the super regional round for the second consecutive season.
|DIVISION I SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP|
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“I didn’t even realize what I had done until afterward,” Wallace said. “It was amazing.”
Wallace grew up in Weatherford, Texas, with her mother, Amy, catching her bullpen sessions, and making her practice even when she didn’t want to.
“Coach Stef would always joke that maybe we could bring my mom to college to catch my bullpens,” Wallace said. “My mom played when she was younger, and even tried to walk on at Baylor. She’s pretty athletic.”
But Mom doesn’t grab the catcher’s mitt for her daughter anymore.
“We tried that last summer, and I was a little scared for her life,” Wallace said. “I’ve learned so much in college and have so much more movement on the ball that I really don’t trust her catching me anymore. I just don’t want to hurt her.”
Right now, Wallace is hurting nothing but opponents’ batting averages. She ranks 10th nationally in hits allowed per seven innings with 4.1 and sixth in Division I with 10.6 strikeouts per seven innings.
When the Ragin’ Cajuns travel to the Ann Arbor Super Regional to face No. 8 Michigan in a best-of-three series, she will have the chance to redeem herself against the Wolverines after losing to them 3-1 on Feb. 22 in the NFCA Leadoff Classic. In that outing, she gave up three runs (two earned) on two hits and a walk and struck out seven in five innings before being relieved by Victoria Brown.
“I was pitching a lot differently when we played them in the beginning of the season,” Wallace said.
Louisiana also played Michigan once last season, and Wallace immediately learned to respect the Wolverine hitters. The Cajuns won the game 10-7, but she surrendered five runs on seven hits in five innings pitched.
“It’s always funny to me when we talk about Michigan,” Wallace said. “In that game [last year], Coach Mike walked out to me and said, ‘Welcome to college.’ There were a few home runs against me. I always joke it was my ‘Welcome to college’ game.”
Louisiana and Michigan begin Super Regional action at 2 p.m. ET Friday. The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU. On Saturday, the squads will begin at noon ET with an ESPN broadcast, with the third game of the series to immediately follow if necessary. The winner will advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City beginning May 30.