LAFAYETTE — When University of Louisiana at Lafayette softball opponents tiptoe through a danger zone, that struggle helps Aleah Craighton find her comfort zone.
A redshirt year was one ingredient that enabled Craighton, a freshman right fielder, to develop into a starter who has provided a power source for the Cajuns from the eighth spot in the lineup.
Craighton’s teammates have been the other half of the equation.
“Every batter in our lineup is dangerous,” Craighton said. “I get to see more pitches and see their (pitcher’s) ball at the bottom of the lineup. It gives me more time to adjust at the plate.”
Craighton’s vision-fueled mental notes contributed to her being the Sun Belt Conference and Louisiana Sports Writers Association Player of the Week after she hit .700 with four homers and nine RBIs during a regular-season-ending sweep of UL-Monroe by the Cajuns.
To reach that point, Craighton had to crawl and then take some baby steps last year.
“She was nowhere near ready to play at this level,” Cajuns coach Michael Lotief said. “Aleah had to get her skill set better. Athletically, she was ready. But understanding the game, she was not ready.”
However, time and work turned Craighton into a player who is hitting .397 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs.
“She has great hand-eye (coordination), is a hard worker, smart and solid,” Lotief said.
At Dutchtown High School in Geismar, Craighton primarily pitched but also played the outfield. Her time in the pitcher’s circle helped in some aspects of playing the outfield.
“It’s the same as in looking in at location and seeing where the ball was hit; but other than that, it’s two different positions.”
As Craighton tries to learn about pitchers’ tendencies during pregame video sessions, she has found out that nothing beats being at the plate to get some on-the-job training.
“Some things we can figure out from video, like a pitching pattern, but it’s different at the plate,” Craighton said.
That is where juniors and seniors are able to step in and provide their own scouting reports to help Craighton out.
“Those kids work hard, and they push each other,” Lotief said. “When one of them figures something out (about an opposing pitcher), they share it. So when you get into a game, it’s all of them versus that pitcher.”
Having moved her average near the .400 mark, and with those weekly awards in hand, Craighton has no trouble maintaining a measured approach to softball. She credits former University of Florida outfielder Michelle Moultrie, who played for the Gators from 2009-12, as being one role model she followed as a fan.
The other 35 women on the Cajuns team also help Craighton keep her celebrations or disappointments from becoming long-term deals.
“My family’s advice on softball is to just trust in God,” Craighton said. “I try to humble myself no matter what my outcomes are. It’s easy for me to mellow out and be in the middle (emotionally) when you are around girls who pick you up or keep you in that middle. We just take it day by day.”