Cajuns’ Samantha Walsh taking new role in stride _lowres

Advocate photo by LEE CELANO -- Louisiana-Lafayette's Samantha Walsh crosses the plate during a doubleheader against Oklahoma at Lamson Park last month.

LAFAYETTE — When Samantha Walsh was told she was playing third base for the Louisiana-Lafayette softball team this season, her emotions were enveloped in surprise.

After all, Walsh had never played any position except catcher, shortstop or second.

Now that the shock has faded, Walsh has settled into handling the defensive aspects of third base for the No. 20 Cajuns (25-6-1), who are tied for second place in the Sun Belt Conference.

Walsh remembers her reaction when UL-Lafayette coach Michael Lotief delivered the news that she was moving from second base to third.

“It was like, ‘What?’ ” Walsh said as she sat in the dugout before an afternoon practice this week.

Walsh’s position change allowed senior Natalie Fernandez to move back to second, a position Fernandez played in high school.

Walsh said the season has been a constant learning experience, as softball third basemen have little time to react to bunts or slap hitters who intend is to send ground balls through gaps in the infield.

“In high school, I caught and played shortstop. During my redshirt year, (Lotief) tried me out everywhere. I knew (a position change) was coming,” she said. “I just let him put me wherever he wanted and play the best I could. I mean, he knows more what he’s doing than I do.”

Walsh still moved around a little. Although she has played 23 games at third, Walsh also played one at shortstop and another in left field.

Her breakout game came last month when the Cajuns won two of three during a weekend series against reigning national champion Oklahoma.

During a Saturday doubleheader, Walsh made a pair of sensational stops on ground balls, and after diving into the dirt to snare the ball, she threw the runner out at first both times.

Those defensive plays helped Cajuns pitcher Christina Hamilton, who limited Oklahoma to four hits in the two victories.

“What I did in those two games helped a lot,” Walsh said. “(Lotief) told us to play like it was the World Series or the Super Bowl. That weekend I was really focused, and I locked in on that. I kept telling myself, ‘You have got to do this every time.’ ”

Since then, Walsh, a sophomore from Ingleside, Texas, said third base has begun become more comfortable.

Lotief said Walsh’s talents have been somewhat concealed, but now they are starting to appear.

“Samantha’s a very talented kid,” he said. “If you watch her day in and day out, you get a feel of how talented she really is. “Last year, she played second and short. This year, we started her at shortstop and moved her to third. Her lateral range and movement plus her arm have helped make (Walsh) a good player at the corners.”

Walsh has normally hit fifth in the lineup, and after the Cajuns’ weekend conference sweep of Texas State, Walsh is batting .220. Her offensive totals include four doubles, three home runs and 31 RBIs.

Against Texas State, Walsh had two key hits during the two victories in a doubleheader.

During a three-run third inning, Walsh smashed a two-run homer tha1 gave the Cajuns a 4-1 lead.

In the second game Walsh also had a bases-loaded two-run single that prolonged a seven-run sixth inning.

Walsh said she has received sufficient help from Fernandez.

“The big thing about playing third is the slappers,” Walsh said. “(Fernandez) has taught me to watch where they are going to put their hands and to identify when they are going to bunt or power slap. You don’t see (slap hitters) that much in high school, but everyone slaps in college. You have to be ready in the snap of a finger.”