Even if the LSU softball team doesn’t meet Louisiana-Lafayette at some point in the Baton Rouge regional this weekend, Yvette Girouard realizes her worlds are colliding once again.
It’s different now, though. She retired as the LSU coach six years ago, and her days of leading UL-Lafayette, a program she built and spent almost 20 years coaching, are long gone. Instead of the dugout, Girouard’s seat will be next to Lyn Rollins in the Tiger Park press box to give analysis on ESPN3.
But the potential matchup still feels “surreal” to Girouard, and she’s glad to be in the booth this time. UL-Lafayette has traveled to Baton Rouge seven times for the postseason, winning regionals titles in 2008, 2010 and 2013.
The reason the No. 14 Cajuns (45-6) and No. 18 Tigers (41-18) don’t meet regularly is complicated, Girouard said. Explanations aren’t made public. She believes the regional wouldn’t have as much hype surrounding it if the schools played yearly.
Nevertheless, she recognizes this regional, featuring three Louisiana teams, means a little bit more to those in Acadiana.
“I’m a Cajun girl,” Girouard said. “I was born and raised there, went to school there, coached there for 20 years. And I was raised to not like the Tigers. This is the World Series right here — to beat the Tigers, especially in Baton Rouge. You’ll probably get a standing ovation in Lafayette everywhere you go. Of course, there are a lot of Tiger fans in Lafayette.
“If there was a tiddlywinks game somewhere between the Cajuns and the Tigers, it would sell out.”
But this regional, which includes third-seeded McNeese State and fourth-seeded Fairfield, is not all about the Tigers and Cajuns. For James Landreneau’s Cowgirls (42-16), who return to Baton Rouge for the postseason for the second straight year, capitalizing on an opportunity is the focus.
“That’s what we talk about all year long,” Landreneau said. “All you want in life is an opportunity. We get an opportunity to play against two quality teams, a great environment. So there’s a lot of excitement on our end. Kids are enthused. They’re excited about being here.”
Fairfield (26-26), a small private school in Connecticut that finished its regular season under .500, needed a magical run through the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament to sneak into the tournament.
At one point this season, riddled by injuries to her pitching staff, Stags coach Julie Brzezinski was tried out position players who hadn't pitched since high school. During those tryouts, Brzezinski found a quasi-closer in infielder Kristen Ball — but Ball only needed to save the first game of the MAAC tournament. Destinee Pallotto fired three straight complete game shutouts to clinch the automatic bid, no-hitting Monmouth in the championship game.
Fairfield’s volunteer assistant coach is actually a former LSU first baseman, Stephanie Hill.
Hill, who lends her time to on weekends when she’s not working as the vice president of an investment management company in New York, said her family will be in attendance wearing “Geaux Stags” shirts among the fans traveling from Lake Charles and Lafayette.
And Brzezinski and Hill are well aware of the environment their team is stepping into.
“Oh no, we know,” Brzezinski said. “The SEC is where we wanted to go, honestly, so we were extremely excited when we knew we were coming down here to LSU. In 2015, we went to Tuscaloosa to play in (Alabama’s) regional, so I think our juniors and seniors are a little bit experienced with that. So they’re not quite in awe, but our younger kids hopefully will get their feet wet and feel comfortable with everything.”
And LSU coach Beth Torina certainly won’t look forward to any matchup against UL-Lafayette until the Tigers take care of business against Fairfield.
“Everybody beat somebody to be here, so there’s no chance that we would ever look past anyone this time of year,” Torina said of Fairfield. “They are a quality program, have a solid coaching staff and do a lot of things well. We’ve spent the last few days preparing for them and that’s been our focus. And as soon as that game is over, we’ll prepare for the next opponent. We’ll be ready for our first opponent, and that’s Fairfield.”