LAFAYETTE — When DJ Sanders came into the world of college softball from northeast Mississippi, she didn’t have a long list of details about Louisiana-Lafayette’s history, but she did have a basic blueprint for success from her oldest sister ... and a few bottles of hot sauce.
Sanders, a freshman shortstop from Columbus, Mississippi, has started all 35 games and has hit .271 for the Cajuns (30-5). It has been a brand new experience for Sanders, her family and friends.
“We didn’t hear about the Cajuns in my hometown,” she said. “The biggest reason why they know about the university now is because I am here.”
Sanders has settled in, batting in the bottom third of the lineup and driving in 19 runs with six stolen bases.
As she has worked on negotiating the learning curve that goes with being a first-year starter, Sanders has received guidance from her sister DeShuni, who lettered for two seasons at Union University, a Division-II school in Jackson, Tennessee.
“She told me it was totally different in college,” Sanders said. “You have to treat it more like a job and find time to do softball and school. She gave me a heads-up.”
Sanders has kept her head down at shortstop and limited herself to three errors through nearly three dozen games.
“She comes in with a high skill set defensively,” associate head coach T.J. Hubbard said. “She reads and reacts, and defense is where she excels.”
A big moment as a hitter came for Sanders in the series opener against Georgia State on April 3. She stepped to the plate with one out and runners at first and second with the Cajuns holding a 7-1 lead, sending a fly ball to right field that she realized would at least drive in a run — but ended up leaving the park.
“I didn’t do well in that last at-bat (before the hit),” Sanders said. “I thought to myself, ‘Hey that will score a run’ — and it just kept going!”
Sanders’ favorite athlete knows about home runs and a bunch of other sports, too. Videos of multi-sport star Bo Jackson gave her plenty of reasons to be excited about all the sports possibilities in front of her.
“He was successful at more than one sport, and I thought I would play basketball and softball in college,” Sanders said. “I just loved him.”
When Sanders focused on softball, she learned that UL-Lafayette was a good fit for a couple of reasons: the common ground shared with her hometown ... and the condiments.
“My hometown is a sweet place,” she said. “The people here were hospitable. At home, I would always have hot sauce with me for food, but my mom is the exact opposite. She doesn’t like spicy food. I got here and I thought, ‘Wow! Everyone is like me.’ ”
Sanders’ background as both a slow-pitch and fast-pitch player at New Hope High School gave her some insight into the game, both as a shortstop or as a pitcher. Her versatility and athleticism are a couple of traits that Hubbard said have served Sanders well.
“She is someone to keep an eye on for this season and the next three years,” he said. “If she gets a couple of bounces through the infield (on a grounder) and she gets a stolen base, it’s like a double.”
As the Cajuns progress through the last few weeks of the regular season, that production could be vital.
“You get in those situations where (opponents) may pitch around Lexie (Elkins) or Shellie Landry,” Hubbard said. “Those kind of pitchers may shut down your 1-2-3-4 hitters. You have to keep pushing those kids (lower in the lineup). Those kids have to keep turning the lineup back over to the top.”