The returnees on UL-Lafayette’s softball pitching staff didn’t lose a single game throughout the 2017 season.
The problem for incoming Cajuns coach Gerry Glasco: Their combined record was 1-0. That was Summer Ellyson’s shaky victory over Dartmouth in which she gave up eight hits and five runs in a 12-5 victory.
UL-Lafayette lost 46 of its 47 pitching wins to graduation and transfer between last season and this year’s slate. Alex Stewart (27-5), Alyssa Denham (15-2) and Macey Smith (4-1) combined to throw 310 innings last year before Stewart and Smith graduated and Denham left for Arizona.
Ellyson threw 20 innings in her freshman season, and the rest of the returning pitchers had a combined eight. Kylie Jo Trahan had been a contributor in her first two years, but injuries derailed her 2017 junior season and have continued throughout this year.
“It only took one look at the stat sheet to see where we had issues,” said Glasco, who didn’t arrive on campus until late November at the end of a tumultuous coaching change. “When I came here, I knew the most important thing was to develop our pitching staff and create a defense.”
Pitching experience being in short supply might not have been as much an issue in previous years, when the Cajuns had arguably the country’s best power-hitting attack. UL-Lafayette had led the nation in run production five times since 2006 including a national best 8.25 runs per game in 2017. The previous two years, the Cajuns topped the country in home runs and slugged a national-best .622 in 2016.
But 2017’s two biggest number producers, D.J. Sanders (national leading 29 homers and 82 RBIs) and Aleah Craighton (18 homers, .779 slugging), departed for Oregon and Arizona during the coaching changeover that saw longtime coach Michael Lotief ousted.
“When you lose 68 home runs and hitters like D.J. and Aleah, the power numbers obviously were not going to be there,” Glasco said. “The critical thing to give us a chance to win games would be to come out with good pitching in the circle, a good bullpen and then play defense.”
The first of those was the most critical, and Glasco still had questions even after the season started — before Ellyson put some of those concerns to rest.
In the season’s third game, during UL-Lafayette’s Mardi Gras Classic and after Trahan, Dixon and fellow freshman Carrie Boswell had divided pitching duties in wins over Samford and Eastern Illinois, Ellyson made the third start of her career against Evansville.
Less than two hours later, the Teurlings Catholic graduate finished off a school-record 20-strikeout performance in a 7-1win. Ellyson had 15 swinging strikeouts, and catcher Beth Ashley had all 21 putouts — she caught one foul popup behind the plate.
Nine days later, Ellyson went toe-to-toe with second-ranked Florida, outdueling the All-America Gators staff of Kelly Barnhill and Aleshia Ocasio in an 11-inning 185-pitch performance the Cajuns won 4-3.
“That was my job,” Ellyson said. “I kept pitching, and I knew we were going to eventually score runs.
“I didn’t dream when I got here in November that we had a pitcher of that caliber on the roster,” Glasco said of Ellyson, who takes a 21-8 record and a 1.43 ERA into Friday’s NCAA regional opener against Houston. “There’s no way to put her value into words, but it’s huge. In softball one dominant arm can impact the team every day. We’ve tried to limit her innings where we could, but she’s such a competitor and she wants the ball.”
Dixon provided a consistent No. 2 after Trahan continued to fight an arm injury. She is 9-3 in 12 starts, while Boswell is 3-2 in part-time duties.
“Both of the freshmen have done well at times,” Glasco said. “Dixon may be our most improved player over where she started. They’ve both worked and fought through a lot of individual battles to get better.”
Barring any issues, though, it’ll be Ellyson throwing the meaningful pitches in the weekend’s regional.
“Sometimes you get one of those special ones,” Glasco said, “and she is one of those.”