Ragin’ Cajuns Softball Preview: NCAA Baton Rouge Regional

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May 19-21: No. 14 Louisiana (45-6, 23-1 Sun Belt) at NCAA Baton Rouge Regional
Friday, May 19 • 3 p.m. (CDT) • vs. McNeese • Tiger Park (2,671) • Baton Rouge, La.
Saturday, May 20 • 12 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. (CDT) • vs. LSU or Fairfield • Tiger Park (2,671) • Baton Rouge, La.

Game Notes: Louisiana | McNeese | LSU | Fairfield
Radio: ESPN 1420-AM • Talent: Steve Peloquin, PxP
TV: ESPN3 (Friday) / TBA (Saturday/Sunday) • Lyn Rollins, PxP; Yvette Girouard, Color
Ragin’ Cajuns Twitter: @ULRaginCajuns | @RaginCajunsSB
Opponent’s Twitter: @McNeeseSoftball | @LSUsoftball | @StagsSoftball

Louisiana: Michael Lotief (Louisiana, 1985)
Career Record: 729-174-1 (15th season) Record at Louisiana: Same

McNeese: James Landreneau
Career Record: 42-16 (1st season) Record at McNeese: Same

LSU: Beth Torina (Florida, 2000)
Career Record: 394-226 (10th season) Record at LSU: 265-115 (6th season)

Fairfield: Julie Brzezinski (Furman, 1989)
Career Record: 794-702-5 (28th season) Record at Fairfield: 549-507-5 (20th season)

Friday, May 19, 2017
G1: 3 p.m. – McNeese vs. Louisiana (ESPN3)
G2: 5:30 p.m. – Fairfield vs. LSU (ESPN3)

Saturday, May 20, 2017
G3: 12 p.m. – Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2
G4: 2:30 p.m. – Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2
G5: 5 p.m. – Winner Game 4 vs. Loser Game 3

Sunday, May 21, 2017
G6: 1:30 p.m. – Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5
G7: 4 p.m. – (if necessary) Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6

14th-ranked Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Softball begins play in the 2017 NCAA Softball Tournament at the Baton Rouge Regional set for Friday-Sunday, May 19-21 at Tiger Park on the LSU campus. The Ragin’ Cajuns (45-6) meet McNeese (42-16) in the opening round of the regional at 3 p.m. on Friday live on ESPN3.

The NCAA Baton Rouge Regional features top-seeded LSU (41-18), Louisiana (45-6), McNeese (42-16) and Fairfield (26-26). All three teams making the trek to Baton Rouge are conference champions (Louisiana, McNeese, Fairfield) having won their league’s respective postseason tournament.

This is the Ragin’ Cajuns seventh trip to Baton Rouge for an NCAA Regional, and the first since defeating LSU in 2013 to advance to the Ann Arbor Super Regional. Louisiana has claimed a regional championship in each of the last three trips to Baton Rouge (2008, 2010, 2013).

The winner of the Baton Rouge Regional will play the winner of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional which features No. 4 national seed Florida State (51-6-1), Georgia (33-21), Jacksonville State (40-10) and Princeton (25-18) in the super regional round (May 25-28) for a trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

The Ragin’ Cajuns played 16 of their final 29 games away from Lamson Park. The squad posted a 15-1 record in those contests.

The Ragin’ Cajuns offense ranks Top 5 nationally in scoring, average, slugging percentage and home runs.

Senior pitcher Alex Stewart has held opponents to two earned runs or less in 23 of 25 starts. She’s pitched shutout softball in six of her last seven starts.

1 – The Ragin’ Cajuns appear in the NCAA Tournament for the 19th consecutive season, a streak which dates back to the 1999 season.

2 – For the first time since 2013, Louisiana is on the road for an NCAA Regional. That year, the program played at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge.

3 – The Cajuns seek a sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA Super Regionals. Michael Lotief’s squad advanced to the super regional round the last five years (2012-16).

4 – Louisiana has shown the ability to get off to a quick start. The squad has scored in the first inning 17 times over the past 23 games (since April 1).

5 – The Ragin’ Cajuns defense has been nearly impenetrable the past month. Since April 1, the unit has committed only 10 errors over the last 568 chances.

Louisiana appears in the NCAA Softball Tournament for the 19th consecutive season, a streak which dates back to the 1999 season.

Louisiana makes its 27th appearance overall in the NCAA Tournament, all coming in the past 28 years. Since 1990, the Cajuns have missed the NCAA’s postseason event only once (1998). The Ragin’ Cajuns’ 27 NCAA Tournament appearances ranks 8th in NCAA history (tied with Cal State Fullerton).

The Ragin’ Cajuns are 59-32 all-time in NCAA Regional play, including a 25-5 mark in claiming regional championships and advancing to the super regional round in seven of the previous nine appearances (2008-16).

The Ragin’ Cajuns’ all-time overall record in the NCAA Tournament stands at 71-55, representing the 12th-most wins in NCAA history.

The Ragin’ Cajuns carry a five-year streak of advancing to at least the NCAA Super Regional round (2012-16) into the 2017 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional.

The Ragin’ Cajuns are in search of their seventh trip to the Women’s College World Series. The last appearance came in 2014 when the squad defeated national powers Texas (NCAA Regional) and Arizona (NCAA Super Regional) to advance to Oklahoma City.

The Ragin’ Cajuns enter the NCAA Tournament on 13-game winning streak and have won 28 of 29 since March 9 when the squad last lost a game of regulation length (L, 4-5 vs. Baylor). The team’s 45-6 record is the program’s best pre-NCAA Tournament mark since 2012 (49-4).

The Sun Belt Conference champions were awarded the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Softball Tournament, which was secured when they topped Texas State in last Saturday’s conference tournament championship game in Troy, Ala.

Louisiana’s offense is led by USA Softball Player of the Year Top 10 finalist and Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year DJ Sanders who has hit 28 home runs, posted 78 RBI and leads the nation in every major hitting category. Sanders leads a balanced attack in which eight of the nine starters have generated 40-plus hits and four other individuals (Haley Hayden, Aleah Craighton, Lexie Comeaux and Daniella Chavez) have posted at least 45 RBI.

In the pitching circle, Alex Stewart (25-3, 1.66 ERA) is coming off a dominant performance in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament where in 18 innings of work she allowed only two runs, seven hits and struck out 23. Stewart, who has pitched shutout softball in six of her last seven starts, is 10-0 with a 0.76 ERA and has allowed just eight runs and 25 hits over 55-1/3 innings pitched over the last four weeks.

Series Record: Louisiana leads 98-24
In Lafayette: Louisiana leads 54-9
In Lake Charles: Louisiana leads 37-13
Neutral Site: Louisiana leads 7-2
Current Streak: Louisiana won 8
Last Meeting: 3/16/16 at Lamson Park
(Louisiana 5, McNeese 4 – 9 inn.)
In NCAA Tournament: Louisiana leads 1-0

Only prior NCAA Tournament meeting was the opening game of the 1994 NCAA Regional at Lamson Park (Louisiana won 3-0)…Second-oldest series in program history (122 meetings) trailing only ULM (132)…Louisiana has won the last eight meetings, a streak which began Feb. 26, 2011 in Lake Charles…Since 1991, when UL led series 21-20, Cajuns have won 77 of 81 meetings to take command of the series (won 38 straight from 1994 to 2004).

Series Record: LSU leads 13-8
In Lafayette: LSU leads 5-2
In Baton Rouge: LSU leads 7-6
Neutral Site: LSU leads 1-0
Current Streak: Louisiana won 5
Last Meeting: 5/19/13 in Baton Rouge (NCAA Regional)
(Louisiana 1, LSU 0)
In NCAA Tournament: Louisiana leads 6-4

Ragin’ Cajuns have won the last five NCAA postseason meetings, a streak that began in the 2008 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional…Programs have met 10 times in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament – Cajuns most-played opponent…Cajuns and Tigers have met on Championship Sunday four times in Baton Rouge (2001, 2006, 2008, 2013)…First-ever series meeting came during Cajuns’ inaugural season (1981)…Last 20 meetings have occurred since LSU re-instated its softball program back in 1997.

Series Record: First Meeting
In Lafayette: 0-0
In Fairfield, Conn.: 0-0
Neutral Site: 0-0
Current Streak: n/a
Last Meeting: n/a
In NCAA Tournament: 0-0

A matchup in the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional would mark the first meeting all-time between the two schools.

DJ Sanders is the nation’s leader in runs per game (1.37), home runs (28), home runs per game (0.55), RBI (78), RBI per game (1.53), total bases (154) and slugging percentage (1.055). Nearly half of her total hits (58) produced have been home runs (28).

The offensive statistics are what pop out when you glance at DJ Sanders’ stat line. However, head coach Michael Lotief points out that her impact extends to defense and leadership qualities.

“It’s the total package that is impressive, not just home runs.” Lotief said. “She’s making some incredible plays that are not easy to make and she’s making them look easy. Unlike in years past, she’s become vocal and is becoming a leader helping our younger kids feel comfortable playing the game.”

DJ Sanders enjoyed her finest season defensively, with only one error in Sun Belt play over 72 chances and just six the entire season through 142 total chances.

DJ Sanders is on the doorstep of 30 home runs – a mark that only former three-time All-Americans Lexie Elkins (32 in 2015) and Danyele Gomez (30 in 2006) reached in program history.

The offensive load doesn’t solely rest on DJ Sanders’ shoulders. Including Sanders, the Ragin’ Cajuns lineup features five hitters with at least 45 RBI.

Senior right fielder Haley Hayden has been the Cajuns most reliable bat throughout her career. The proof: she reached 60 hits for the fourth straight year, scored 60 runs a fourth straight year and posted 50-plus RBI three times. Hayden’s career totals for hits (272), runs (249) and RBI (213) have all exceeded the 200 threshold.

Louisiana collected 24 hits last week in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. Every player in the starting lineup posted at least one hit.

Eight of the nine starters in the Ragin’ Cajuns lineup have tallied 40-plus hits.

Many have had their eyes on DJ Sanders as the Cajuns most feared hitter. Two spots down in the lineup, Aleah Craighton offers a reminder of the reputation she’s built as one of the top batters in the country. She has provided a reliable source of power and run production once again, reaching double digit home runs (18) and at least 40 RBI (53) for a third straight season.

Beginning with the ULM series finale (May 7), Aleah Craighton homered at least once and tallied three RBI in three consecutive games. She hit two home runs and posted six RBI over the first two outings last week at the Sun Belt Tournament in Troy.

Alex Stewart showed over the last four weeks of play that she’s zoned in and is hitting her stride as NCAA postseason play arrives. Over the last 55-1/3 innings pitched, she has held foes to just eight runs and 25 hits.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have scored in the first inning 27 times over 51 contests (27-0 in situation).

Replacing an All-American is never easy to do. Lexie Comeaux has performed exceptionally well in filling the shoes of last year’s starter, and three-time All-American, Lexie Elkins. She’s hitting .351 with 10 homers and 47 RBI and has controlled the opponents running game throwing out nine runners attempting to steal in only 23 attempts. Not bad for moving to the position in January after an injury to Miranda Grotenhuis changed the Cajuns plans.

Junior shortstop DJ Sanders is a Top 10 Finalist for the 2017 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award. The USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award, which is considered the most prestigious honor in Division I women’s collegiate softball, recognizes the outstanding athletic achievement by female players across the country.

Sanders, who last month was selected as a finalist for the award, joins former Ragin’ Cajuns greats Christi Orgeron and Lexie Elkins as players in program history to advance to the Top 10 list.

The Top 3 Finalists will be announced May 24, while the winner of the 2017 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award will be revealed on May 30 prior to the start of the NCAA Women’s College World Series (WCWS) in Oklahoma City.

Haley Hayden took hold of sole possession of the program’s career runs scored record when she crossed home plate on Corin Voinchè’s double in the first inning of the Coastal Carolina finale at Lamson Park on April 30. Hayden recorded her 244th career run, which surpassed the 243 scored by Nerissa Myers from 2010-13.

She has reached 60 runs for the fourth straight season and has entered the NCAA career Top 25 list. She is one run shy of becoming just the 24th player in NCAA history to amass 250 career runs.

Freshman pitcher Alyssa Denham showed in February that she’s going to be a dependable arm for the Ragin’ Cajuns in the circle. Denham worked 38 innings in the circle over the season’s first month, limiting foes to 10 runs (seven earned), 21 hits and a .159 average. The highlight was a complete game, two-hit shutout of No. 4 Alabama that secured the series win for the Ragin’ Cajuns and earned her USA Softball National Player of the Week honors.

Alyssa Denham (Alvin, Texas/Pearland HS) is the fourth daughter of Steven and Kathy Denham to play collegiate softball. All three of her elder sisters played softball at McNeese and were All-Southland Conference selections: Stephenie (shortstop, 2001-03), Jessica (pitcher, 2003-06) and Tiffany (pitcher, 2009-12).

Haley Hayden’s move to first base at the start of the season, and most recently right field, marks the third and fourth positions she’s played in a Ragin’ Cajuns uniform. The senior from West Monroe patrolled center field as a freshman in 2014 and covered second base the past two seasons.

Lexie Comeaux – who was slotted for first or second base – filling the spot at catcher is a similar situation to former Ragin’ Cajuns catchers Joy Webre who was a shortstop and Lana Bowers who was an outfielder before being converted to the position. Webre and Bowers turned out to be four-year starters for Louisiana. Comeaux’s arrival at the position was spurned by a season-ending knee injury suffered by Miranda Grotenhuiswho had worked her way into the spot during the fall season.

Kara Gremillion, last year’s nine-hole hitter, has moved to the leadoff spot in the batting order for the 2017 season. Given last season’s performance at the plate, it seems like a natural fit. As a freshman in 2016, Gremillion displayed poise at the plate, with 30 walks against 11 strikeouts in 173 plate appearances (.480 on base percentage).

A year ago, the rise of Aleah Craighton and DJ Sanders as prolific hitters was on display as they both hit 18 home runs. Now it’s their turn to be the force in the heart of the lineup. Craighton has tallied 20-plus extra base hits the first two years of her career. Of her 109 career base hits, over 50 percent (58) have produced extra bases. Sanders saw a significant increase in power (from four home runs as a freshman to 18) and run production (from 27 RBI as a freshman to 58) during the 2016 season.

2 – DJ Sanders is two home runs shy of becoming the third Cajun to hit 30 home runs in a single season. She would join Lexie Elkins (32 in 2015) and Danyele Gomez (30 in 2006) on the exclusive list

.357 – Louisiana’s batting average since April 1

4 – Of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ six losses, a total of four have come by one run

6 – DJ Sanders has hit six grand slams in 2017, tying the NCAA record for a season (last reached by former Cajun Christi Orgeron)

27 – The Ragin’ Cajuns have scored in the first inning 27 times and hold a 97-12 runs scored edge in the frame

32 – Louisiana’s pitching staff has held the opposition to two runs or fewer in 32 of 51 games.

39-0 – Louisiana’s record when scoring six runs or more

43 – Leadoff hitter Kara Gremillion has reached base 43 straight games. She’s struck out only 11 times in 205 plate appearances

94 – Combined hits by the Cajuns table setters Kassidy Zeringue (No. 8 hitter) and Kelli Martinez (No. 9 hitter)

270 – Cajuns hitters have turned patience and strong plate discipline into 270 walks, a tally which leads the nation and is 25 shy of the school record (295 in 2011)

#LineupShift: The choice to work around DJ Sanders became an even more riskier gamble when she was elevated to the No. 2 spot in order (up from cleanup) on April 14 at Texas State. Now she’s backed up by the team’s hottest hitter of late, Haley Hayden (hit .469 with 7 HR and 28 RBI in April), and Aleah Craighton who owns 83 career extra base hits.

#BigInnings: Over the last six weeks, the Ragin’ Cajuns have generated 29 different innings of three-plus runs.

#StillVaulable: For the fifth straight season (eighth overall) the Cajuns have reached 80 home runs under Michael Lotief’s guidance. Despite losing sluggers who combined for 63 homers in 2016, the 2017 squad has proven that they can utilize the long ball to drive the offense.

#GoGoGremillion: Kara Gremillion enters the NCAA Tournament with a string of 43 consecutive games reaching base. She provides a strong presence for the Ragin’ Cajuns in the leadoff position, having struck out only 11 times through 205 plate appearances.

#VeteranVoinchè: Corin Voinchè was the starting shortstop for the Cajuns during the 2014 run to the Women’s College World Series. She’s battled back from a pair of knee surgeries – which forced her to miss the 2015 season and limit her time in 2016 – to solidify the defense at first base and steady the No. 7 spot in the lineup. Since entering the starting lineup on April 1, Voinchè is hitting .354 and struck out only five times in 77 plate appearances.

#ZippingAlong: Kassidy Zeringue has delivered 11 multiple-hit games hitting from the No. 8 spot and has maintained a .370-plus batting average since March 1.

#DoubleTrouble: No. 9 hitter Kelli Martinez combines with Kassidy Zeringue to cause pitchers to have to face the top of the lineup – with DJ Sanders hitting second – with multiple runners on base. The duo has combined for 94 hits, giving the Ragin’ Cajuns an efficient rate at turning the lineup over.

#WhatEverItTakes: Haley Hayden has shown she’s willing to play whatever role necessary to see the Cajuns succeed. Earlier in the season she started at first base. The final five weekends in Sun Belt play she played in right field. Whether it is helping mentor the pitchers at first base or delivering an outfield assist, Hayden’s versatility is a valuable asset.

#AmongTheBest: Louisiana has an active streak of 69 consecutive weeks ranked in the national polls dating back to April 2013 and has finished ranked in one of the national polls each of the past nine seasons (2008-16) and 24 times in the past 27 seasons (1990-2016).

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