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Softball: Cajuns Rack Up League Awards

Gomez, Kirchberg, Lotiefs take top honors; five named to Sun Belt first team

Dan McDonald

In what has become an annual tradition, the University of Louisiana softball team racked up lots of hardware Wednesday night before the Sun Belt Conference Championships even began.
The Ragin’ Cajuns claimed the top three honors and put five players on the All-Sun Belt first team announced Wednesday evening at a pre-tournament banquet hosted by Florida International in Miami.

To the surprise of no one, senior outfielder Danyele Gomez was honored for the second straight season as Player of the Year after winning the league’s “triple crown.” Senior pitcher Ashley Kirchberg, who led the Sun Belt in wins and ERA, was honored as Pitcher of the Year, and co-head coaches Stefni and Michael Lotief were honored as Coach of the Year.

Joining Gomez and Kirchberg on the all-league first-team were first baseman Lacey Bertucci, second baseman Brittany Bryant and outfielder Ashley Evans. Pitcher Krystal Lewallen was a second-team selection.
The 15th-ranked Cajuns (45-10), who open tournament play at 5:30 p.m. today against either Middle Tennessee or Troy, continued some impressive streaks with this year’s selections. A UL pitcher has won Pitcher of the Year honors all seven seasons of all-league selections, and the Cajuns have claimed Player of the Year and Coach of the Year honors in six of those seven years.

“We’ve obviously had some outstanding players in our program,” said Stefni Lotief, who won her fifth Coach of the Year honor. “But I really think the difference is in their mental approach. They go out and prepare every day to play as close to their potential as they possibly can.”

Gomez embodied that potential, finishing the regular season with the highest batting average (.456), the most hits (83), the most home runs (28) and the most runs scored (72) in conference history. The second player ever to win back-to-back Player of the Year honors (UL’s Becky McMurtry was the other in 2002-03), the Metairie product also led the league in RBI (64) to become the Sun Belt’s second-ever “triple crown” winner (UL’s Alana Addison in 2001 was the other).

Kirchberg, a product of Houston, went 23-1 with a lone loss to Arizona and had a 1.77 ERA, with she and teammate Lewallen (1.95) the only Sun Belt pitchers under a 2.00 ERA for the season. In league play, Kirchberg was the only unbeaten pitcher (8-0) with more than three decisions, after throwing in only two Sun Belt games last season.

Evans, a senior from West Monroe, ranked second in the conference in homers (20) and third in batting average (.329) while not committing an error all season in right field. Bryant, a four-year second-base starter from Beaumont, Texas, hit .298 with 12 homers and set a UL record for career walks. Bertucci, a junior from Folsom-Covington High, had 19 homers and was second in the Sun Belt with 56 RBI while hitting .326.

The league’s other top honors went to pitcher Sarah Belanger of Florida International, named Freshman of the Year, and shortstop Shelby Stiner of Middle Tennessee, tabbed as Newcomer of the Year.

Originally published May 11, 2006