LAFAYETTE — Senior weekend at Lamson Park is an occasion that usually represents more than tears and flowers, says Louisiana-Lafayette softball coach Michael Lotief.
This weekend’s salute to the Cajuns’ two senior players, which begins with a 2 p.m. Saturday doubleheader against Louisiana-Monroe, is especially significant, Lotief said.
UL-Lafayette’s two senior players — second baseman Natalie Fernandez and outfielder Shelbi Redfearn — have crafted unique stories during their final season of eligibility, said Lotief.
For Fernandez, it’s not so much about her Sun Belt Conference-high batting average, said Lotief, but about the emotional stability she has provided to a lineup that consists mainly of sophomores and freshmen.
With Redfearn, in her second year at UL-Lafayette after transferring from Baylor, it’s been about redemption and raising her batting average over 100 points compared to last year, Lotief said.
Lotief said Fernandez, who played at Live Oak and is batting .457, has been a team leader that has helped with the progress of so many young players this season.
“What she has meant to this team the last couple of years, it’s hard to think of her as not being around. This year she has taken her skill set to a different level and her leadership skills to another level.
“Shelbi on the other hand, is a great story this season. Last year she struggled so immensely and to know that kid has been so trusting and turned it around, has really been a pleasure to watch,” said Lotief.
Redfearn is hitting .286 with 12 home runs on a team that has at league-leading 70.
Fernandez, the leadoff hitter, has a 55.5 percent on-base percentage and has 68 hits and 30 bases on balls in 149 at-bats.
Lotief said sometimes senior weekend gets overly-emotional for the Cajuns (38-7-1, 16-1), who have clinched their 11th regular-season title.
“It’s always going to be emotional, especially for the females. The best way to honor these two kids is to show up and play your best,” Lotief said.
Lotief said the seniors in the program have always held a lofty status with the younger players.
“These kids lean more on the upperclassmen than they do the coaches. If these underclassmen can find someone they can relate to and reach out to, then these seniors become an extension of us,“ Lotief said.
The three game series with ULM, which ends with a 1 p.m. single game on Sunday, is a prelude to the SBC tournament, which begins next week at Lamson Park.
UL-Lafayette has a bye that extends into the third round (semifinals). In the past two weekends, the Cajuns have swept their conference series with Troy and Texas-Arlington, outscoring those opponents 42-0.
The Warhawks (22-22, 6-11), in some ways resemble the Cajuns offensively.
UL-Lafayette leads the conference in nearly every offensive category, but UL-Monroe is third in team batting average (.291) and third in slugging percentage (.448).
Infielder Miyuki Navarette leads the Warhawks in hitting (.375) and has a career 83 stolen bases. The other top hitters for the Warhawks are outfielder Rochelle Roberts (.349) and infielder Alexis Cacioppo.
The Warhawks, however, have had their problems on the mound. ULM is last among SBC teams in strikeouts (140) and the staff has only one save.
UL-Lafayette junior Chrisitna Hamilton (21-1) is among the league leaders in earned run average (1.26).
Lotief said he and the coaching staff have continued working with Cajuns’ pitcher Jordan Wallace (13-3) , a junior who has struggled with control.
Wallace has walked 102 in 97 innings. Wallace has hit 25 batters and thrown 31 wild pitches.
“I’m optimistic we can continue to make some adjustments with Jordan. I just believe that we are closer to being able to flip the switch with her. “We’ve got to get her going again. We’re a better team when all three of those (pitchers) can come in and pitch.”
effectively for us,” said Lotief.