From day one, it was never a secret why UL softball coach Gerry Glasco brought senior outfielder Keeli Milligan to the Ragin’ Cajuns.
“I just loved her aggressive approach to the game,” Glasco said from the beginning. “She just plays the game so hard.”
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And Milligan didn’t waste any time setting the tone. In an early-season tournament, Milligan was already squaring up with an opposing player. It was typical Milligan — asking no quarter and more importantly not giving any.
With the postseason here, Milligan’s approach may be more needed than ever when the No. 7-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns begin play in the 2019 Oxford regional at 3:30 p.m. Friday against Southeast Missouri’s Redhawks at the Ole Miss Softball Complex.
“I think they (teammates) are a pretty aggressive bunch, too,” Milligan said. “They’re all pretty feisty, too. I didn’t come to a complacent team on purpose. I chose to come to a team that has a reputation of being fiery, feisty — getting in your face and doesn’t back down to big teams.
“I picked the place I thought I’d fit in best. That was important to me that I fit in with my fire and my style of play. I think they’re not surprised because coach Glasco coaches that way.”
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In Milligan’s mind, transferring from Texas A&M worked both ways.
“I wanted to come here, get coached hard to get better and I feel like I’ve accomplished that,” the Vidor, Texas native said. “I knew what I was getting into. He coached us hard at A&M, he’s coached us hard here but in the end, it doesn’t feel like a personal attack. He’s coaching you up, coaching you hard because he wants you to get better so we can win and be a better athlete.”
The reason for Milligan’s super intensity is simple in her mind.
“It’s just that I care so much about this game. I’ve fought really, really hard to get to where I am now. I just care a lot. I think if you love something and you care a lot about it, you get fired up for it. I don’t think I’m like that in everyday life after everything. Some stuff kind of rolls off me, but when it comes to softball, I take it very, very seriously. I think of it as my job.”
These days, UL senior third baseman Kara Gremillion doesn’t even want to consider the future.
One thing is for sure, it would be difficult to be around Milligan without being intense.
“If you’re not competitive, if you’re not fired up, then I’m going to get you that way,” she said.
Even before Milligan began stealing bases in February, though, Glasco noticed her impact.
“Milligan has been critical,” Glasco said. “She’s such a great kid. She’s a great student-athlete. She’s kind of a freak in the weight room. One of the things I noticed is kids here weren’t used to working like the SEC type environment with the weight room. The strength and conditioning program is critical. Keeli was a great leadership tool for our strength coach in the weight room.”
Deep down, Sarah Hudek knew the day would come.
And as expected, once the season began, Milligan started stealing bases. Going into NCAA regional play, Milligan is four stolen bases behind Southeastern’s Jaquelyn Ramon’s 63 for the national lead.
The senior’s approach to stealing bases, like most things in her life, are straight to the point.
“It’s fun, it gets people fired up, it’s gets me fired up, it helps the girl behind me get an RBI, it helps the team win and to me, it’s who I am as a ball player and it was what I brought to this team to do,” said Milligan, who is hitting .340 with 15 RBIs and 59 stolen bases on the season.
Glasco said he plans for Milligan to return to the lead-off spot after hitting in several other spots during the course of the season.
At times during their year and a half together, it’s probably felt like a tug-of-war for both of them.
“I don’t know if there’s a player good enough to be picky about where they hit in the lineup,” Milligan said. “I don’t care where I hit in the lineup. I just want to play and contribute. If I’m in the two-hole, which I am right now, I’m going to try to be the best two-hole you’ve ever seen. If I’m in the nine-hole, then I’m picking up the end of the lineup. I’m going to do whatever it takes.”
Now just a handful of wins away from her goal of returning to the Women’s College World Series where she finished her 2017 season at Texas A&M, Milligan wants everyone thoroughly focused at the plate.
“I think we just have to trust what we’ve learned and buy into our game plan at the plate,” Milligan said. “When we say we’re going to swing at one pitch and lay off another, we have to 100 percent have that in mind when we go to the plate and do that. You have to execute.
“If we know she throws curve balls and we’re looking to drive an inside pitch, we have to do that the first curve ball she gets us. We can’t wait until the sixth or seventh inning and then make an adjustment. We have to go up from the very first inning to let them know we’re here to do. We’re here to play and beat you.”