Lotief Previews Ragin’ Cajuns Softball 2016 Season [VIDEO]
Last year was supposed to be a down year, but Ragin’ Cajun Softball disproved the doubters. What’s on deck for the 2016 season?
It’s hard to top a super-regional appearance without the two top pitchers on the staff. Christina Hamilton and Jordan Wallace won’t be patrolling the circle and controlling opposing bats. The Cajuns have an arsenal of offensive weaponry returning, but Head Coach Michael Lotief acknowledges the realities ahead.
"This isn't going to be built overnight, and hopefully we have some experience in other places, so we don't have to put pressure on one or two kids," Lotief said. He added, "You not only have a lot of returning starters, you have a lot of solid pieces of the puzzle."
The experience he refers to swing some hefty bats. Shellie Landry put up career highs in almost every single offensive category last season, Haley Hayden packs a mighty punch with her welding gloves in the batters box, and Lexie Elkins led the nation in home runs last year. Opposing coaches can’t pitch around all of them, and they’re not the only Cajuns sporting dangerous repertoires at the plate.
Elkins was showered with praise for her record setting performance last year, including first team All-America honors. She’s on numerous watch list heading into 2016, but she will have another challenge in front of her that her coach is taking more seriously.
"Lexie's going to be handling a young pitching staff this year,” Lotief said. “We're going to put a lot of responsibility on her."
Casual fans typically overlook the behind the plate aspects of a catcher’s role. They handle the tempo of the game and manage the tempers and emotions of their pitcher in the circle.
The last few years, Elkins had familiar faces and steady hands with Jordan Wallace and Christina Hamilton. It’s natural for the fan base to worry about what is next. Two aces departing is sure to affect the team, but this is no surprise to Lotief and his staff.
Pardon the pun, but after all the years coaching, it’s hard to catch Mike Lotief with a curve ball.
"We've been getting ready for these kids graduation for the last two or three years," Lotief said.
It’s not like he will be throwing completely inexperience pitchers in the circle to start the season. Alex Stewart was in the top 50 in the NCAA last year with her 2.09 ERA, and she was undefeated in her first ten decisions of the season.
In his press conference, Lotief talked about how Hamilton metamorphosized from a bench player into an All-American in her time on campus. Aces don’t just show up at practice one day with a magic bag of “the right stuff.” It takes time to find your niche and pocket at the next level.
The potential is there for Stewart, and she could be the ace Lotief turns to when the Cajuns are fighting for a College World Series.
"She's got the makings of being a top tier pitcher,” Lotief said with confidence.
There’s another pitcher lurking on the roster with big time upside as well. Any regular attendee at Lamson Park recognizes her heater.
"Victoria [Brown] throws harder than anybody on the staff.” Lotief said. “Her changeup is getting better and better."
Lotief also joked that heading into every season he talks about going with a staff approach to pitching. When the season tightens, he typically has one or two pitchers developed that he can turn to when it’s time to shut things down.
Fans are allowed to worry about the loss of Hamilton and Wallace. Lotief doesn’t have time for that.
Stewart or Brown could grow into full-blown aces soon, or a young arm could steal the show. Either way, Lotief is going to trust his years of experience and let it all play out.
“Somebody's going to separate themselves, that's what history tells me. I'll be on the right side of history this time."
The last piece of the puzzle comes down to setting a lineup. There’s a lot of pop on the lineup, but setting the batting order is kind of an art.
On top of Elkins, Landy and Hayden, you can throw in Aleah Creighton, Samantha Walsh, Kelsey Vincent, DJ Sanders…get the picture? No matter who’s pitching, they will have a lot of run support. Coaches will be coaches though, and Lotief said he won’t announce a lineup just yet.
Gamesmanship demands you don’t turn your hand early to your opponent, but this line from the coach is less smokescreen, more motivation to his hitters.
"I haven't gotten nine hitters that I can rely on in a Super Regional setting that are prepared and ready to go,” Lotief said.
Rest assured, Cajun Nation. Whatever nine batters go out there in the order Lotief selects will mash the softball. There’s a reason the Cajuns are consistently in postseason play and competing for College World Series titles. Lotief’s split-grip approach might take a little time to learn, but it produces year after year.
There are always some x-factors in a season though. Momentum’s pendulum can swing any week, especially when you throw in injuries…knock on wood, of course.
"The right people have to stay healthy, and I'm not talking about me,” Lotief joked to close his press conference.
Softball season is about to start. Are you ready for another Spring in Lamson Park? With the right weather and the right game, it’s one of the best places on the planet.