LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette softball program might be the only one in the NCAA to have a top-five national ERA and have it be a complete afterthought.
“I don’t really pay attention to numbers,” said Cajuns right-hander Alex Stewart, who genuinely might not know she sports a sterling 17-1 record to go along with a 1.55 ERA. “I didn’t realize, I guess.”
Seriously, look it up. Cajuns pitchers have compiled a 1.52 ERA through 35 games, which is the fourth-best mark in all of college softball. They have allowed more than four earned runs in just one game this season. And they’re doing this with a staff that combined to start a grand total of 14 games last season.
Anywhere else, those would be the numbers you lead with when discussing the team. Anywhere but Lafayette, home of the mashing Cajuns who lead the NCAA in home runs, runs and slugging percentage and also rank among the national leaders in batting average and runs per game.
But that’s just fine for the Cajuns pitchers. They’ve carved out a nice niche for themselves outside of the spotlight. And besides, there’s not much room for ego in the Cajuns softball program anyway.
“It’s been everybody contributing, everybody doing their jobs, everybody working hard,” coach Mike Lotief said. “It’s been fun to watch the collective effort.”
That’s kind of the key to the pitching staff’s success this season. All those great numbers have been a product of all nine players on the field.
The Cajuns pitchers have 215 strikeouts in 217 innings this year, meaning almost exactly a third of their outs have come by strikeout. It’s not a bad number by any stretch, but it’s not exemplary, either. Former Cajuns pitcher Jordan Wallace struck out more on her own (220) in 63 fewer innings last season.
What this group of pitchers has done is rely on the defense behind them, something Lotief believes they’re able to do with full confidence because of the close-knit relationship his pitchers have with their teammates.
“It’s easier to trust somebody as a pitcher when I have a relationship with them,” Lotief said. “I’ve visited with them and I’ve talked to them and I’m around them and I know what’s going on with them, rather than I’m always over here in the bullpen, then I get into the game and I’m supposed to flip a light switch and trust the shortstop.
“It’s a lot easier to do when you’ve built that relationship. This year, this group has invested in each other to be able to do that. I think that’s why we’re more collective.”
Oh, and it also doesn’t hurt to have that offense at your back. Cajuns pitchers are frequently working with big cushions, outscoring teams by an average of 6.5 runs per game.
The Cajuns staff goes into every game with confidence that its teammates will have its back both at the plate and in the field.
“They’re doing awesome and it puts way less pressure on us knowing that as long as we go out there and do our job, our defense has our backs,” said Kylee Jo Trahan, who somewhat ridiculously has the worst ERA on the team at 1.76. “We go out there with no worries, basically.”
And here’s the scariest part of all for those Sun Belt Conference teams hoping to unseat the Cajuns in the next few years: there’s still room to grow.
“I don’t think I’m that dominant yet,” Stewart said. “I know I have a lot to get better at. Kylee feels the same way. It’s good that we’re doing so well, but we have a lot to get better at.”
Elkins finalist for award
Cajuns catcher Lexie Elkins was named one of 25 finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award on Wednesday afternoon.
The award is college softball’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy and will be presented at the opening of the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Elkins, who is expected to be sidelined for the next several weeks with a thumb injury, is hitting a nation-leading .538 to go along with 17 home runs this season.