LAFAYETTE — Before every softball season begins, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Michael Lotief preaches about his desire for a pitching staff.
Every season, his desire falls short.
“Every year, we expect it to be staff,” he said, “but in June, we’ll be talking about one. That’s just the way it is.”
In 2013, the ‘one’ became Jordan Wallace, and in 2014, it was Christina Hamilton. Wallace was the ‘one’ for most of 2015, but now both Wallace and Hamilton have graduated, and candidates to become the ‘one’ being discussed in June is up for grabs.
“When Brooke Mitchell graduated in our first cycle we were here, it left a void,” Lotief recalled. “One of my good friends from high school called me and he said, ‘Mike, I don’t know if you realize this, but they can only stay there for four years.’ ”
“I learned my lesson from all those years ago. We’ve been getting ready for those kids’ graduation for the last two years, and we aren’t looking too far behind us or too far ahead of us. We’ll just keep our nose to the ground and see what happens.”
Lotief said he knows the expectations are high this season — as they are every year for the Cajuns softball program — and building up his young pitchers won’t be done overnight.
“Whether or not these girls are ready to jump right in the circle and there not be any drop off, I think that is unfair,” Lotief said. “Every great pitcher we have had has developed and taken time to learn and get trust in their teammates. We have some experience in some other planks, so we don’t have to put undue pressure on one or two kids.”
The Cajuns return two pitchers with significant playing time in Alex Stewart and Kylee Jo Trahan. The hard-throwing Victoria Brown returns to the rotation after an injury-plagued 2015, and newcomers Alison Deville and Summer Ellyson could see the time in the circle as well.
“Alex throws the ball in mid 60s and has an above-average change up,” Lotief said. “She can spin up and down, throw it in and out. She has the makings of being a top-tier pitcher.
“Kylee Jo has the same build, height and velocity as Alex. Victoria throws harder than anyone on the staff. She has developed some pitches up in the zone and her change-up is getting better. Alison is a lefty and we see lefties all the time. She gives a different look with her drop curve.”
Lotief said perhaps the best “stuff” on the staff belongs to Ellyson, the true freshman from Teurlings Cathlolic who may be asked to pitch meaningful games early.
“Summer has the greatest spin of all of them,” Lotief said. “Her rise and her curve and her stuff is really good. It’s a mater of the getting the mound time and getting the confidence and the trust of her teammates.”
Lotief said he understands pitching is a major component to the Cajuns’ success, and he said he feels like the pitchers he has on staff will come out on top. He pointed back to Hamilton — a pitcher who saw very limited time before breaking out and becoming an All-American.
“How did Hamilton transform from a kid who sat on the bench and never pitched to being an All-American?” Lotief asked. “Her spins were the same; her speeds were the same. Something clicked in her head that said ‘I am going to be the best.’
“How does that happen? It’s not easy to do and it takes a special personality to be able to handle scrutiny and continue to develop. We are going to have growing pains along the way, but I think these kids are going to get where they need to get. They will struggle. It is part of the process. You just have to come out stronger, and I think we have the right kids in the right system.”