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Softball: Fernandez’s turn – Senior ready to deliver like a true leader

Kevin Foote, Daily Advertiser, Feb. 7, 2014

For the last three seasons, Natalie Fernandez has seen it first hand.

When she was a freshman learning the ropes of the college game, she had Katie Smith playing behind her in the field and hitting one spot behind her. She also had Nerissa Myers playing to her left on the infield.

From the words they spoke to the examples they set to the passion that sparked their play on the field, Fernandez just soaked it all up.

Actually, she did more than just watch. The former Live Oak High standout did a pretty good job of taking what she learned to the field. She was fourth on the team in hitting as a freshman at .265 and then led the team in hitting as a sophomore at .436, before “slipping” to fourth at .345 last season.

During that stretch, she also made a transition from high school middle infielder to third base look easy.

As satisfying and productive as her first three years playing for the UL Ragin’ Cajun softball program have been, it’s hard for her to believe that it’s now her turn.

Fernandez is one of only two seniors on this year’s squad – along with Shelbi Redfearn.

But while she understands the leadership duties that come along with being a senior, she’s convinced that her job is going to be easier than her predecessors as the 2014 begins today with play in the Louisiana Classics.

“I really can’t believe the past three years have gone by so fast.” Fernandez said. “It’s kind of strange (being a senior), but these (freshmen) are focused. I’m not concerned about the youth on this team. They’re ready. Once they figured it all out, they’re going to do great.”

Playing for a coach like Michael Lotief, Fernandez knows that she only needs to mimic his words to deliver good advice.

“It really is just about trusting the process,” Fernandez said. “Katie and I were extremely close and the leadership that last year’s seniors gave this team was incredible. But the biggest thing they did was remind the young girls to trust the process. When they thought they were in a slump, they made sure they knew that they believed in them and that they were behind them.

“I just hope that I can help these (freshmen) that same kind of help that they gave me.”

On the field, Fernandez is expected to be providing help this year from different positions.

Defensively, she’s going to be at second base after three years primarily at third base.

Offensively, Fernandez is expected to be hitting lead-off after mostly batting ninth during her time at Lamson Park.

“I’m actually more comfortable at second,” said Fernandez, who played shortstop in high school and second in summer ball her senior year. “I think I’m more suited for second. At third, I had to be quick, because I don’t have that strong of an arm.”

In Lotief’s mind, the move was necessitated by the fact that the loss of Myers at shortstop required more range up the middle.

“Our range is more limited this year in the infield,” he said. “So it just made more sense to me to put a kid with range at a range position.”

As for batting first in the order – at least to start off with – Fernandez would appreciated everyone remembering that she’s not Nerissa Myers. She doesn’t the power Myers possessed and she’s not going to take as many pitches as Myers took.

“That was just her style,” Fernandez said. “I definitely won’t be taking as many pitches as she did.

“In my mind, my job hasn’t changed. As a slapper, my job is to get on base – doesn’t matter if I’m hitting ninth or leadoff or eighth.”