Cruce, Rousseau propel Lady Toppers to first NCAA Tournament win

Sophomore infielder Preslie Cruce, from Empire, Ala, is greeted by her teammates at home plate after hitting a 2-run home run against USC Upstate. WKU won 3-0 against USC Upstate in their first NCAA Regional Softball Tournament game at Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala on Friday May 17, 2013.

Kyle Williams

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — WKU’s first NCAA Tournament Regional game couldn’t have gone much better for the Lady Toppers.     

The WKU softball team notched a 3-0 shutout over South Carolina Upstate in the first game of the Tuscaloosa Regional at Rhoads Stadium on Friday thanks to a strong performance on the mound from junior pitcher Emily Rousseau and a couple of crucial homers by sophomore infielder Preslie Cruce.


The victory marks the first NCAA Tournament Regional win in WKU (42-16) softball history.


Rousseau (25-6), the Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year, pitched all seven innings and gave up just two hits while striking out six Spartan batters. She threw 64 strikes in 86 pitches on the afternoon.


Sophomore infielder Preslie Cruce tacked on a run early with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning. Cruce has totaled six leadoff home runs this season.


The Alabama native said the key to her early-game success was staying calm.


“I just knew going in I wanted to relax,” Cruce said “…I was just looking for my pitch and when she threw it, I just took advantage of it.”


USC Upstate (41-11) put two runners on base in the top of the third inning with just one out but couldn’t capitalize, as Rousseau escaped the threat with a pop-up out and strikeout.


Rousseau said Cruce’s early home run gave her leeway in the circle as the game went on.


“To know they have my back like that is just awesome,” Rousseau said. “It makes it so much easier to go out and just play relaxed.”


Cruce struck again in the bottom of the fifth inning with a two-run home run over the centerfield wall, scoring sophomore outfielder Shawna Sadler. The multi-home run game is Cruce’s second of the season.


Coach Tyra Perry said Cruce stepped up for the Lady Toppers in key moments of the game.


“Preslie was hot and led us off with the home run and then came back and had two additional great at-bats,” Perry said after the game. “I’m really proud of what she did at the plate for us today.”


Rousseau went on to strike out two in the top of the seventh to seal the 3-0 victory for WKU.


Perry said playing their brand of softball allowed the Lady Toppers to be so successful against the Atlantic Sun Conference champion Lady Spartans.


 “The ladies played great,” Perry said. “I’m really proud of everything that we accomplished on the field today in this first game…I felt like we were comfortable and confident.”


The Lady Toppers will play the winner of Jacksonville State and No. 10-seed Alabama tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa.