FIVE QUESTIONS THAT WILL DEFINE THE CAJUNS’ SEASON
Q. Who will emerge as the team’s new top pitcher (or pitchers)?
A. Jordan Wallace and Christina Hamilton took nearly 75 percent of last year’s innings with them to graduation, leaving a relatively unproven group behind. Junior Alex Stewart (10-2, 2.09 ERA in 2015) is a pick to click in a revamped pitching staff, and Kylee Jo Trahan was impressive as a freshman.
Q. On a mostly proven roster, hich player will unexpectedly break out?
A. Most of the Cajuns’ projected lineup is a proven commodity, but if someone is ready to take people by surprise it might be sophomore shortstop D.J. Sanders. She finished her freshman season on a tear, hitting .375 in her final 11 games, and she’s a preseason all-Sun Belt pick for a reason.
Q. How will opposing teams teams pitch to slugger Lexie Elkins?
A. Everyone on the Cajuns schedule is wondering if there’s a right answer, and there probably isn’t. Elkins was virtually unstoppable last season, hitting for both average (.426) and home runs (32), and with a rock solid lineup hitting in front of and behind her, there’s not much wiggle room.
Q. Yet again, the Cajuns have high expectations. Will they handle them well?
AAlmost assuredly. This is a program that has been built to perennially contend, and expects to do so. The majority of the Cajuns roster has Women’s College World Series experience, and all of the returning players have been to at least one super regional. Expectations are expected, not crippling.
Q. Personally, coach Mike Lotief had a tough season. Will is health hold up?
AAt least outside the program, this is the biggest unknown. Lotief has been in high spirits with the season about to start, but he’s still dealing with the medical issues that caused him to miss most of the road games at the tail end of last year. The veteran coach will do his best to fight through it.
C LEXIE ELKINS
There’s not much to say about Elkins that hasn’t already been said. The two-time reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year will be a national Player of the Year candidate.
1B KELSEY VINCENT
The senior is coming off a breakout 2015 in which she had career highs across the board, including home runs (18) and batting average (.308).
2B HALEY HAYDEN
Hayden sets the table for one of the most potent lineups in college softball, but at 5-foot-4, she has some crazy pop in her bat, with 29 homers in two seasons.
SS D.J. SANDERS
Sanders excelled as a freshman defensively last season, making just eight errors at a premier position, and she should be an improved player offensively.
3B SAMANTHA WALSH
Like Vincent, Walsh was at her best as a junior, hitting 14 homers in a crucial spot, protecting Elkins in the batting order.
LF SHELLIE LANDRY
If there’s anyone who might compete with Elkins for a player of the year award, it might be Landry. She hit .372 with 20 home runs as a junior while batting in front of Elkins.
CF KELLI MARTINEZ
The defensive specialist has speed to burn in the outfield, where she made 0 errors in 56 chances, and on the bases, where she had eight steals.
RF ALEAH CRAIGHTON
Used almost as a second cleanup hitter, Craighton had 12 homers and a .371 batting average from the eight-hole as a redshirt freshman.
DP KARA GREMILLION
The Cajuns have plenty of options at this slot, but Gremillion, a true freshman and the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, will likely find her way to the field at some point this season.
Just because the Cajuns don’t necessarily have experienced players returning in the circle doesn’t mean they won’t find solid performers. Coach Mike Lotief has been preparing for life without Jordan Wallace and Christina Hamilton, and he’ll have options to choose from this year. Returners Alex Stewart and Kylee Jo Trahan will be joined by juniors Victoria Brown and Macey Smith and redshirt freshman Allison Deville.