A Review Of Opening Weekend For Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun Softball
Louisiana's Ragin' Cajun softball team opened up their 2014 regular season schedule last weekend, going 2-2-1 in the 28th Annual Louisiana Classics at Lamson Park.Yes, 2-2-1! Louisiana tied Purdue on Sunday, 7-7. The two teams played eight innings, before the game was halted, as Purdue had a plane to catch for their return trip back home.
In the other four games, the Cajuns captured extra inning wins over Northern Iowa (10-8) and North Carolina (6-5), while suffering two losses to Texas (10-7 & 7-3).
This is a Louisiana team that is a work-in-progress. While talented, and while I expect them to get better as the year progresses, they are young. They're only two seniors and three juniors on the entire team, and only two of those (seniors Natalie Fernandez & Shelbi Redfearn) are position players that started games over the weekend.
Throw in the fact that junior pitcher, Jordan Wallace, an All-American candidate, was unavailable on Saturday and Sunday, and UL was even younger, while facing the likes of Texas, who qualified for the 2013 Women's College World Series, North Carolina, who has appeared in an NCAA Regional in 10 of the last 11 years, and Purdue, who is good enough to already have a win over Texas this year, and that 2-2-1 record doesn't look bad.
What was good was that the Cajuns competed. Every game was close, and they'll be a better team shortly, due to that.
Actually, because the Cajuns are young, but talented, we may see a number of games go the way that they did over the weekend throughout this year.
In the opener against Northern Iowa, Louisiana was down 7-1, before coming from behind to win in eight innings, 10-8.
In their second game, UL jumped on top of Texas, 5-0, before falling, 10-7.
In their third game, again, the Cajuns had to come from behind to win in extra frames, 6-5, in ten innings, against North Carolina. UL trailed, 5-3 in the sixth, and 5-4 in the seventh, before capturing the win.
In game four, Louisiana jumped on top of Texas again, 2-0, before losing 7-3, despite having the go-ahead run at the plate in the sixth inning.
In their final game, UL trailed Purdue, 5-3, before scoring four runs in the seventh, to take a 7-5 lead, before Purdue score two in their half of the inning to tie it.
That was kind of how the whole weekend went, wild and wooly, with three extra inning games.
Louisiana competed, they showed fight, and they showed that they won't back down from anybody, in any situation.
Sure, the Cajuns lost two, but scoring ten runs against Texas, the 10th-ranked team in the country, is something to build on.
Offense was certainly to main positive of the weekend. Louisiana scored 33 runs, while banging out 42 hits, and crushing 8 home runs in five games, against quality competition.
Sophomore catcher Lexie Elkins was incredible, going 9-for-19 with three homers, and nine RBI's. It's hard to imagine her getting better, but remember that she graduated high school early to be eligible to play at Texas Tech a year early last year, so she likely will.
Kelsey Vincent, the sophomore third baseman, had a good weekend at the plate, hitting a .375 with a homer and four RBI's. Vincent also struck out six times, but do to her long swing, what we saw from her over the weekend is likely to be what we'll see throughout her career. She'll strike out some, but she'll also put up some big time numbers. If Vincent swings the bat all year the way so did over the weekend, the Cajuns are going to score a lot of runs, just like they did over the first three days of the season.
Senior second baseman Natalie Fernandez hit a .333, but her on-base percentage was even better, at a .478. When she gets on base at the rate she did over the five games over the weekend, the Cajun offensive attack can be lethal.
Freshman outfielder Hayley Hayden also had a nice weekend, while Shelli Landry and Shelbi Redfearn provide some pop, so you can't help but be extremely optimistic after seeing what the Cajuns did from an offensive standpoint over the weekend.
The defense wasn't stellar, with nine errors in five games, along with a couple of plays that maybe could have been made, but weren't, but that's to be expected. Redfearn is making the switch from the outfield to first base, Fernandez, while a natural second baseman, is switching from third, where she played the last two years, Samantha Walsh is moving from second base the shortstop, Vincent is moving from first to third, Landry is moving from left to right, and Hayden is in the outfield, after playing in the infield in high school last year.
That's a lot of moving parts.
The defense will suffer some growing pains, but that's to be expected. And what's also expected is for that defense to get better as the year goes along.
I saw some things to be positive about, from a pitching standpoint. Wallace, assuming she'll be back shortly, is going to be one of the top pitchers in the country, so that's not even a concern. The other three pitchers had some good moments, and are the reason for optimism.
Christina Hamilton gave up eight hits in nine innings, but was terrific in the North Carolina game on Saturday, tossing six no-hit, shutout innings. If she pitches at that level, or at the level she pitched at in her freshman year of 2011, she'll be a big asset to the pitching staff.
Freshman Macie Smith allowed 22 hits and 12 runs in 13.1 innings of work, but that's really misleading. Smith came into the season opener against Northern Iowa and gave her teammates a chance to come back, throwing 4.2 innings. She has great command pitching to the third base side of the plate, mixes up her pitches, and competes.
Speaking of competing, freshman Alex Stewart may have had the most underrated performance of the weekend. The change-up artist gave up seven runs in Saturday's loss to Texas, but she threw a complete game. That was extremely important, because without Wallace, it allowed Hamilton and Smith to take the game off and be fresh for Purdue on Sunday. Without Stewart's performance against Texas, they wouldn't have had a chance to win that game, nor would they have likely come away with a tie against Purdue.
Right now, Stewart has a 7.88 ERA., but that might be one of the ten most overrated statistics in the history of college softball.
I think this UL pitching staff is deeper than last year, with a healthy Wallace, of course, but needs to become more consistent. That should come with experience. There are two freshmen, so allow them time to grow. That being said, even though statistics will show mixed results, they showed a lot, from a competition aspect, and are better now than they were just four days ago.
This week, Louisiana travels to Ruston on Wednesday, to take on Louisiana Tech, before hosting Valparaiso, Michigan, Memphis, and Central Arkansas in the Ragin' Cajuns Invitational over the weekend.
If those game are anything like the five we saw last weekend, it will be another fun week.