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Softball: Evans ignites UL surge

Fifth-year senior keeps Cajuns potent with bat and leadership.

It was on the bus trip back from last year’s NCAA softball regional in Oklahoma that Ashley Evans threw down the gauntlet to her University of Louisiana teammates.
“There was a lot of concern about who was going to pitch this year, what are we going to do, sort of a woe is us,” said Ragin’ Cajun co-head coach Michael Lotief. “Everybody was worried, and she got up on the bus and told everybody that it was a challenge to all of us. We were going to have to hit better, field better, play harder, pick our game up and play on a higher level.”

That’s what fifth-year seniors are supposed to do, but Evans has more than backed up those words this season. Through only 19 games, she’s almost matched her home run (eight this year, 10 last year) and RBIs (24 this year, 28 last year) output of 2005.

She well could pass those totals today, with the Cajuns heavy favorites to roll past Mississippi Valley State in a 4 p.m. doubleheader at Lamson Park. The Delta Devilettes are 1-18 and are coming off tournaments in Hawaii and Missouri over the past three weeks.
The 10th-ranked Cajuns, meanwhile, will likely add to their school record of 19 straight wins to open the season, and Evans is a big reason. The senior from West Monroe takes a .373 average into today’s twinbill, after hitting only .239 in an injury-plagued junior season.

“I’ve always started off bad,” Evans said. “I struggled really bad early last year, and then toward the end I had eight home runs in a month. I asked myself why can’t I do that every time I play, and that’s what I’ve tried to do, find that kind of consistency.”

She’s done that. Until last weekend, she was UL’s team leader in runs batted in, and is still only one behind the red-hot Danyele Gomez (.533, 11 homers, 25 RBIs). She picked up where she left off in an All-Sun Belt Conference 2005 season when she hit .324 after April 1 and had those eight homers between April 20 and May 12.

Most of the early-season struggles were due to a back injury and continual bouts with tonsillitis, which prevented her from making trips to league foe Florida International in each of the last two seasons. She had the tonsils out over the summer and is continuing to work through back pain.

“I feel like I’ve had so many health issues,” Evans said. “But I’m working through it. I can’t afford to miss games and take time off.”

Evans shifted to the outfield this year after playing infield much of her career, and has yet to commit an error this season. But her success there didn’t come as a surprise to the staff.

“She’s been one of those kids who’s played everywhere we’ve asked her to,” head coach Stefni Lotief said. “She’d played there some before, and it wasn’t anything odd to us because we see her in practice.”

It’s her hitting philosophy, though, that’s undergone the biggest change.

“It’s my fifth year and you mature with the game,” she said. “You start understanding it more. I’ve always been a better postseason player, but this year I made a promise to the team that I wasn’t going to just be a postseason player. I was going to do it from the start.”

“When you have a Brooke Mitchell pitching like we did last year,” Michael Lotief said, “maybe you don’t work as hard on defense or don’t work every at bat. I see her with a completely different approach this year. She knows this is it. She wants to be an All-American or have a chance to try out for the Olympic Team. She has dreams that motivate her.”


5-7, Sr., West Monroe

THIS YEAR: Through 19 games, is 22-of-59 (.373) with 13 of her 22 hits for extra bases, 24 RBIs and 16 runs scored. Has four doubles, eight homers and a slugging percentage of .881.

CAREER: Two-time All-Sun Belt first team selection, last year as designated player. Has been hampered with injuries to her back, hand and ribs as well as tonsillitis during her career. Played in 22 games as a freshman in 2002 and only six in 2003 before the hand injury, and got a medical redshirt for that season.

Finished second on team in hitting (.340) in first full season in 2004.

PERSONAL: Born Dec. 7, 1982 as youngest of seven children … Marketing major who will graduate at end of spring term … Holds a brown belt in karate.

Originally published March 14, 2006