FIVE QUESTIONS THAT WILL DEFINE THE CAJUNS’ SEASON ... AND THE ANSWERS

Q: Can the Ragin’ Cajuns’ pitching staff stay healthy?

A: The Cajuns have a potentially dominant 1-2 punch in Christina Hamilton and Jordan Wallace, but both have had injury setbacks. Hamilton was the clear ace last season, going 29-4 last year and being named Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year. The Cajuns can’t afford to lose her. Hamilton and Wallace have both been cleared for the season opener.

Q: If injuries bite the pitching staff, who is next in line?

A: Victoria Brown would have been the answer if not for shoulder surgery that has sidelined her indefinitely. Macey Smith could start, but she’ll take on more of a relief role for the Cajuns. Lotief is excited about true freshman Kylee Jo Trahan from Burkburnett, Texas. Don’t be surprised to see Trahan early and often.

Q: On the heels of a trip to Oklahoma City, how can this year’s team make its own mark?

A: The expectations are lofty after losing only two starters from last year’s Women’s College World Series team. “We have to keep our focus on the here and now,” Christina Hamilton said. “For us to do that is not that hard.”

Q: How will the influx of freshmen mesh with the old guard?

A: Even though the Cajuns lose just two players, they are being replaced with freshmen — and those freshmen will be expected to perform at a high level. Lotief said he knows the team will go through growing pains.he keys will be to learn from those growing pains.

Q: Most great teams have great leaders. Who will emerge as the leader of this team?

A: “Leading is a mindset,” Lotief said. “I don’t think it comes naturally. It’s a process.” Lotief doesn’t expect leadership to come from just one person and wouldn’t be surprised if some of the freshmen step up. “There’s no rule against a freshman stepping up and leading. I think it could be seven or eight girls that fill that role.”

THE LINEUP

C: Lexie Elkins

The Sun Belt Conference player of the year returns behind the plate. After her freshman year at Texas Tech produced no power numbers, Elkins exploded in 2014 for the Cajuns with 24 home runs, second most in the nation.

1B: Kelsey Vincent

Vincent will assume her usual spot at first base after starting 50 of 54 games last season.

2B: Haley Hayden

After starting all 60 games in the outfield as a freshman, Hayden will man the second base spot as a sophomore. Last year’s efforts earned her first team All Sun Belt honors.

SS: D.J. Sanders

With Corinn Voinche sidelined with a knee injury, the highly touted freshman Sanders takes over with a lot of hype. Sanders recently earned a spot on the U.S. Junior National Team.

3B: Samantha Walsh

Walsh started 55 games last season at third and returns for her junior season. A tough-nosed, defensively sound infielder who also had 11 home runs.

LF: Shellie Landry

An All Sun Belt Conference preseason pick, Landy returns to the spot where she started every game last season.

CF: Kelli Martinez

One of the new faces in the outfield, Martinez is going to provide speed defensively and in the lineup.

RF: Aleah Craighton

The redshirt freshman takes over in right field after Landry moves from right to left.

DP: Sarah Corbello, Gabby Felps

The duo of Corbello and Felps will split time at the DP spot. Corbello will look to find the form that made her the player of the year coming out of high school in 2012. Felps started nine games in the DP spot last season.

PITCHING STAFF

Christina Hamilton will assume her role as the ace, and Jordan Wallace could give the Cajuns a 1-2 punch if she can find her 2013 form. Lotief said five pitchers may see action in the opening weekend: Hamilton, Wallace, Alex Stewart, Macey Smith and true freshman Kylee Jo Trahan. Wallace and Hamilton both nursed injuries in the offseason but will be good to go in the opener.