For a long time, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns have set the standard for success in Sun Belt Conference softball.
That was supposed to the case again in 2021 and it still may be.
Early-season standings can be a bit deceiving, but the bottom line is the Cajuns enter this weekend’s Sun Belt extravaganza at Lamson Park in the middle of the pack.
Coach Gerry Glasco’s No. 16-ranked Cajuns (16-6, 2-1) will play two separate three-game series this weekend, beginning at 6 p.m. Friday against South Alabama.
UL softball coach Gerry Glasco is very different as Division I head coaches go.
After concluding the USA series with a noon Sunday game, UL is scheduled to make up a postponed series against Georgia Southern (5-11, 0-2) at 4 p.m. Sunday, followed by a 4 p.m. doubleheader Monday.
Tthere are three undefeated teams sitting atop the league standings in South Alabama (6-0), Troy (6-0) and Texas State (5-0). ULM is off to a 4-1 start.
That means UL is in fifth place after losing to Texas-Arlington (4-18, 1-5) last weekend.
“I expected it to be up,” Glasco said of the Sun Belt race. “We’ve got some really good coaching staffs in the conference and they’re all working really hard and doing a great job. As a result of the good coaching staffs, you’ve got better ball clubs. I thought this season was going to be a much better, more competitive year for our conference, and it’s actually exceeded my expectations and my hopes.”
The Cajuns still control their own destiny. After all, UL has won 57 consecutive league series.
And yet, this season has been filled with so many unforeseen obstacles, how could anyone feel anything is a lock these days?
Last weekend illustrated how quickly trouble can arise, and this weekend brings a whole new challenge.
Needless to say, the pre-conference part of the 2021 schedule has not gone like UL coach Gerry Glasco envisioned it.
Barring any run-rule games, six games means 42 innings of pitching.
While UL has utilized more arms than normal this season, many of those outings haven’t been as dominant as in the past.
When the Cajuns scored five or more runs this season, their record is 14-0. That means they're 2-6 when they don’t.
That’s hardly a convincing trend going into a six-game weekend.
You can bet South Alabama smells blood. Not so long ago, UL-South Alabama was the premier, can't-miss matchup in the Sun Belt.
The Cajuns have won 12 straight in this series — and lead it overall 34-11 — but the last Sun Belt team to win a series against UL was South Alabama in March 2013.
This weekend affords the Jaguarss a huge opportunity that program has been yearning for since long before Glasco’s arrived in Lafayette.
In its heyday, South Alabama’s strength was pitching. This year’s squad boasts a lower team ERA (2.59) than the Cajuns do (2.76).
The Jaguars have also allowed fewer hits and struck out 40 fewer batters.
Needless to say, the 2021 season hasn’t gone as planned for the UL softball team.
Getting Wednesday’s midweek game against Louisiana Tech rained out was likely a blessing in disguise for the Cajuns.
Time to regroup — mentally more than anything — in time for this weekend’s unprecedented six-game challenge.
There will be many things to keep an eye on over these six games. One is how similar the starting lineups will be each day. If so, will the Cajuns produce more consistent defensive play?
Next up is how much the banged-up bunch, including Justice Milz, Kaitlyn Alderink, Bailey Curry and Jenna Kean, play.
And will Summer Ellyson return to form in the circle? Typically, she loves a challenge and this team is definitely getting those on a frequent basis of late.
Some special things could happen this weekend. It's time to have fun again at Lamson Park, which hasn't been the case all season long.
Ellyson is one win shy of her 80th-career win, an area only five others have reached.
Ciara Bryan is riding a 15-game hitting streak. She could get within four games of Kelli Bruce’s school record of 25.
But the most important thing to Glasco and his fans is that UL look dominant in Sun Belt play again.
Too many signs lately suggest that status may be slipping away.