BOCA RATON, Fla. — A three-run home run by Preslie Cruce in the top of the seventh guided the WKU softball team to a 5-3 win over ULM Friday in an elimination game of the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Softball Championship at FAU Softball Stadium. The win puts the Lady Toppers in a matchup with South Alabama later in the day.
WKU (33-24-1) struck first against ULM (25-26). With Ciara Garcia on first base and two outs in the top of the second inning, Amanda Thomas hit a two-run home run to straight away centerfield off of Haylie Wilson to give the Lady Toppers a 2-0 lead. The home run was Thomas' 12th of the season. The Warhawks responded in the bottom of the second. Roxy Cassel led off with a double off of WKU starting pitcher Emily Rousseau. Haley McCall then doubled down the left field line, scoring Cassel to make the score 2-1. After Elena DiMattia popped out, Mackenzie Miller sacrificed to move McCall to third base with two outs. Kayla Boening then reached on a dropped fly ball that scored McCall to tie the game 2-2. Miyuki Navarette put ULM ahead 3-2 with an RBI single through the right side of the infield.
Both starting pitchers settled in after all the scoring in the second inning. Rousseau and Wilson each retired the side in the third and fourth innings. Katrina Metoyer broke a string of nine consecutive WKU batters retired with a two-out infield single in the top of the fifth. Wilson got out of the inning on an Olivia Watkins ground out. Rousseau had retired seven consecutive Warhawk batters when Boening led off the bottom of the fifth with a single to left field. Navarette then put down a sacrifice bunt to move Boening to second base. Rousseau would get WKU out of the inning unscathed as Charlotte Pastor and Janel Salanoa grounded out to end the fifth.
WKU had a chance to tie in the top of the sixth. With one out, Kelsie Mattox reached on an error. Karavin Dew then singled back up the middle. With the tying run in scoring position, Shawna Sadler came in to pinch-run for Mattox. Amanda Walden hit a liner right back at Wilson who initially dropped the ball, then threw to third to retire Sadler for the second out. Laura Smith flew out to left field to end the inning. ULM put the pressure on in the bottom of the sixth. Alexis Cacioppo led off the inning with a walk. Cassel then singled through the left side of the infield. With runners on first and second, Rousseau struck out the side to keep the score 3-2.
With the season on the line, Ciara Garcia popped out to lead off the top of the seventh. Thomas then hit a single to centerfield. Jacqueline McGill came on to pinch-run for Thomas with one out. Metoyer then popped out to Navarette at second base for the second out. Watkins singled to keep the inning alive for Cruce. Cruce hit a towering three-run home run to right field, putting WKU ahead 5-3. Rousseau made the lead hold up, striking out Janel Salanoa and Cacioppo looking to end the game.
Cruce's seventh-inning home run was her eighth of the season. WKU had seven hits in the game, with Thomas going 2-for-3 at the plate. Rousseau struck out six batters in the complete-game win, allowing six hits and three runs. The Lady Toppers did not strike out in the game. Cassel led the Warhawks with two hits.
WKU will play one more game on Friday, taking on South Alabama. That game will start 30 minutes after the conclusion of the FIU/North Texas game that is starting at 2:10 CDT.