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Softball players named league Players of the Week

Dan McDonald

Krystal Lewallen wasn’t surprised that University of Louisiana teammate Danyele Gomez was named the Sun Belt Conference’s Player of the Week.
“All year long since we got started,” Lewallen said, “I kept asking her if she could please hit home runs off somebody besides me.”

Gomez got that opportunity for something besides intrasquad competition over the weekend when the Ragin’ Cajuns opened their 2006 softball season, and so did Lewallen. The result was a sweep of the league’s season-opening honors.

Gomez, the Sun Belt’s returning Player of the Year, was selected Tuesday for the league’s first POW award, and Lewallen was tabbed as Pitcher of the Week. That’s what happens when your team shuts out four of five opponents and outscores them 55-1 in your own Louisiana Classics tournament.
“There are always unknowns when you’re coming into a season,” said UL coach Stefni Lotief. “Krystal had a lot of accolades, but moving up to Division I is a big step. And even with what Danyele has done, coming into your senior year is hard sometimes because there’s that sense of urgency.”

Gomez didn’t show any senioritis, earning MVP honors in the Classics with a .529 batting average. She had 10 runs and seven RBI along with four doubles and a homer in UL’s sweep of Ole Miss, Grambling and Memphis over the weekend.

Lewallen, last year’s NCAA Division II national Player of the Year at Northern Kentucky, compiled a 3-0 record in the circle in her first Division I appearances. She threw 17 scoreless innings and had two complete-game shutouts against Ole Miss. Opponents hit .143 in her three appearances that included 21 strikeouts.

“It felt good to finally get started,” Lewallen said. “Going against people who don’t know all your pitches, that’s nice. We’d worked hard all fall and the last few weeks, so it was good to get a chance to see what we’ve been working for.”

Success over the weekend wasn’t limited to that pair, though. The 18th-ranked Cajuns hit .389 as a team over the weekend and had an 0.23 team ERA. The league’s next-highest batting average is North Texas’ .263 mark, and Troy’s 1.88 team ERA is the only one remotely close to the Cajuns’ figure. UL’s 5-0 mark is also the league’s only perfect record (Middle Tennessee has yet to open its season).

“We were able to get a lot of our nerves out of the way,” Lewallen said. “I’ve been working on developing more pitches, and this weekend was a chance to use them against live batters.”

Gomez’ opening-weekend home run gave her 54 in her career, three shy of the school-record 57 total of Alana Addison.

“She’s a very gifted hitter,” Lotief said.

“She’s a smart kid (former valedictorian at Cabrini High and a pre-med major), and Mike (hitting coach Michael Lotief) has worked hard to help her develop and flourish like she has. Mostly, it’s just her hard work day in and day out.”

Originally published February 15, 2006