There are several ways to view the importance of UL’s long Sun Belt Conference softball road trip to Coastal Carolina this weekend.
The series is scheduled to begin with a noon doubleheader Saturday, followed by a 10 a.m. finale Sunday in Conway, South Carolina.
For starters, there’s the here-and-now RPI concerns with two weeks left in the regular. The No. 13-ranked Cajuns currently have an RPI of 21, but Coastal’s is 159. A loss would be damaging.
That leads coach Gerry Glasco’s mind to a pair of losses in his memory bank. The Cajuns haven’t swept the Chanticleers in his first two trips to Conway.
Coastal won the middle game 4-2 his first season at UL and the Chanticleers stunned UL 7-1 in the opener last season shortly after the Cajuns won a series at Florida.
“I would love to come out of there with our first (road) sweep ever,” Glasco said. “That’s going to be our goal to go up there and win three. I’ll be disappointed if we do any less than that.”
These days, Coastal is 19-19 overall and 7-11 in Sun Belt play. The Chanticleers are hitting .286 as a team with 41 homers and 31 stolen bases. By comparison, UL’s batting .318 with 47 homers and 119 stolen bases.
Kaitlin Beasley Polko (9-8, 4.07) and Iyania DeJesus (5-6, 5.49) have made most of the starts for Coastal this year, while the Cajuns ride Summer Ellyson (16-5, 2.41) and Kandra Lamb (14-4, 2.16).
“You would think you could score 14, 15, maybe even 20 in any series that we play,” Glasco said. “Then the reality is, if you’re going to hang your hat on something, you hang your hat on defense and pitching, because it’s easier to be consistent in pitching and it’s easier to be consistent on the defensive side than it is on the offensive side.
“With the offensive side, there’s a lot involved.”
There’s also the Sun Belt title race to consider. The Cajuns (35-9, 16-2) could clinch the league crown with a sweep and Troy (32-11, 15-3) losing two at home against Texas State (31-9, 12-5).
But really the biggest factor is UL getting its ducks in a row over the last two weeks in time for postseason play.
“I think if we’re going to get on a roll here and have success in the postseason, it’s really important that we have a good two weeks to finish this season,” Glasco said. “We need to have our hitters comfortable at the plate and we need to get our pitchers comfortable in the circle. We need to get the defense shored up and get everybody ready to go out and play at a high level in the postseason."
These final two weeks will also be a critical time to monitor UL’s injury list. Speedy outfielder Jenna Kean has battled a shoulder injury all season.
“Watching her throw, her throwing arm is getting better daily,” Glasco said. “I don’t think she’s have much pain at all. I think she’s really close to being 100%.
“It seems like the challenge with her right now is getting her to believe in herself offensively again.”
Glasco said Raina O’Neal has been updated to “day to day” after being out season since February with a broken wrist. She swing the bat for the first time this week.
“I think she’s getting closer,” Glasco said. “I think we’ll have a decision before next weekend if she’s going to come back or not.”
Shortstop Alissa Dalton isn’t as close to potentially returning.