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Softball: Cajun dominate All-Sun Belt Conference team

Daily Advertiser, May 7, 2014

Click here for video. UL softball receives All-Sun Belt awards, including Lexie Elkins for Player of the Year, Christina Hamilton for Pitcher of the Year, and Mike Lotief for Coach of the Year. Chad Washington, The Advertiser

After going 41-7-1 and 19-1 in Sun Belt Conference play to earn the regular season crown, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns placed a conference-best seven players on the All-Sun Belt team, including Player of the Year Lexie Elkins, Pitcher of the Year Christina Hamilton and Coach of the Year Michael Lotief.

Elkins and Hamilton rounded out the Cajuns’ first team selections, joined by Haley Hayden, Natalie Fernandez and Shellie Landry, for a conference-best five first-team selections.

Kelsey Vincent and Shelbi Redfearn each earned second-team honors.

"I’m most proud about is winning the Conference Championship as a team," Lotief said. "Individual awards are always flattering, but they are never the objective. Our goal was to win the conference championship and we did it collectively. This team is good because they get each other’s backs and are never worried about the individual performances.

"This team is selfless," Lotief added. "They understand that the one with the highest batting average is valuable to our goal, but they also understand that the sub who never gets in the game is an integral part of what we are trying to get done. The individual awards are flattering, but they are secondary to the goal."

UL softball receives All-Sun Belt awards, including Lexie Elkins for Player of the Year, Christina Hamilton for Pitcher of the Year, and Mike Lotief for Coach of the Year. Chad Washington, The Advertiser

Elkins took no time earning the love of the Ragin’ Cajuns faithful, hitting two home runs in the season opener. She finished the regular season batting .386 with 17 home runs, and 64 RBI, both the most in the Sun Belt, with five of her 17 homers coming off nationally ranked opponents.

"It’s exciting, but I know that none of it would be possible without my teammates getting me to understand what the process is and my coaches for helping me," Elkins said. "It wouldn’t have been possible without all the help I got from teammates like Natalie (Fernandez) and Shellie (Landry), or without Haley (Hayden) showing me a different approach at the plate."

Hamilton compiled a 22-1 record during the regular season, winning her last 19 decisions, with her only loss coming against nationally-ranked South Florida on Feb. 22. Of her 22 wins, five came against ranked teams, including both games in a doubleheader sweep of defending national champion, Oklahoma on March 15, nearly throwing a no-hitter in her complete game shutout in the first game.

"I think if you ask (Hamilton), she would defer the credit and attention to her team as well," Lotief said. "She has had a lot of people stand behind her and believe in her, and that is what this sport is about, second chances and redemption."

Lotief won the Coach of the Year award for the first time since becoming the sole head coach of the Cajuns, after leading Louisiana to its 22nd straight 40-win season, and 12th under his direction. The Cajuns lost four first-team all-Sun Belt selections from 2013, and rebounded to post their best conference record in almost a decade, and win the regular season championship.

"I have a great coaching staff, and this award is about them too," Lotief said. "They have been relentless. This group of coaches is committed to the development of these players, and they do that day-in and day-out. They keep grinding and do very impressive work throughout the season."

Fernandez earned her second-career all-Sun Belt selection, earning first-team honors after leading the conference in hitting, batting a .456 clip, and runs scored with 59. As the Cajuns’ leadoff hitter for the entire season, she boasted a .552 on base percentage, compiling 73 hits, and drawing 31 walks. She was also named first-team all-Sun Belt as a sophomore in 2012.

Landry also earned her second all-Sun Belt honor after earning second-team kudos as a freshman last season. The sophomore batted .291 after a late-season surge, with 33 RBI and a team-high 10 doubles with three homers. She batted .333 in the final 24 games with all three homers and 20 RBI, including a four-RBI game, with a grand slam against Troy.

Hayden one of three freshmen named to first-team, after hitting 14 home runs, while batting .337 and driving in 50 runs. She was named to the inaugural NFCA Division-I Freshman of the Year top-25. Her 50 RBI and 14 home runs rank second in the conference, behind Elkins, and her 55 runs scored rank second behind Fernandez.

Vincent earned her first all-Sun Belt selection after batting .283 with six homers and 23 RBI. She saw time in 43 games, starting 39, while battling a knee injury for the second half of the season. She was in the top-10 in the conference in walks, reaching base at a .433 mark.

Redfearn rounded out the all-Sun Belt selections after a stellar senior campaign. In her second season at Louisiana, she batted .280 with 12 home runs, the fourth-most in the Sun Belt, and drove in 37 runs, tied for eighth in the conference. She hit one of the Cajuns’ two grand slams, in a seven-RBI, two-home run game against Baylor on Feb. 28.

The Cajuns will now enjoy a bye in the first two rounds of the Sun Belt Championships, and will play on Thursday at 5 p.m. The Cajuns will face either No. 4 WKU, No. 5 Texas State, or No. 8 UT Arlington, with WKU facing the winner of Texas State and UTA Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.