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Softball: Special seniors – Fernandez, Redfearn play as leaders

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, May 3, 2014

It was no easy task for either of them.

While so many outsiders focused on all the missing doubles, homers, RBIs and stolen bases suddenly gone from the loss of five seniors from last year’s Super Regional club, including such stars as Nerissa Myers, Brianna Cherry, Matte Haack and Sarah Draheim, there was another key void to be filled.

A whole lot of seasoned leadership also left the lockerroom with the departure of that talented group.

Consequently, the 2014 version of the UL Ragin’ Cajuns softball team entered this season looking for more than a second pitcher, answers up the middle and on the corners defensively and RBI bats in the middle of the lineup.

It also needed senior leaders to push this young team heading in the right direction.

Making that chore even more daunting is there were only two candidates to fill that void – Natalie Fernandez and Shelbi Redfearn.

That duo will be honored during Senior Day ceremonies on Sunday to wrap up the regular-season finale series against UL Monroe, beginning with a 2 p.m. doubleheader Saturday and a 1 p.m. single game Sunday at Lamson Park.

Fernandez had been a three-year mainstay in the program, but didn’t have the poster-child personality for being the vocal team leader.

Redfearn was entering only her second year in the program and the first one didn’t go anywhere near as planned.

So now that the Cajuns are entering the final regular season series of the year, exactly how did Fernandez and Redfearn do?

The answer is simple. This young group is 38-7-1 overall, 16-1 in Sun Belt play, is ranked as high as No. 13 in one of the major polls and sports an RPI of No. 5.

"They showed incredible leadership," UL coach Michael Lotief said. "They did it in different ways, but those are two special kids. I’m very proud of each one of them."

Lotief describes Fernandez as "the heart and soul" of this year’s Cajuns. On the field, Fernandez was one of the nation’s top leadoff hitters this spring with a .456 average and .555 on-base percentage. Off the field, the Live Oak High product quickly transformed herself into the bell-cow leader the team needed.

"She didn’t need to lead vocally last year, because we had that with the five seniors," Redfearn said. "So last year, she stepped up and led by example. This year, you could just see it.

"That (vocal leadership) wasn’t in her comfort zone, but she did a great job of being a leader all year. It really got to the point where it seemed natural for her."

While Redfearn may not have had the years of experience in the program that her senior teammate had, Fernandez certainly appreciated what the Baylor transfer brought to the team this spring.

For starters, Redfearn became a threat in the middle of the order after a lackluster junior season of transition. She’s currently hitting .286 with seven doubles, 12 homers and 36 RBIs.

It’s Redfearn’s giddy personality that Fernandez will remember.

"Shelbi brings a lot of energy to the team," Fernandez said. "When it’s a really long practice and everybody just wants to go home, she’s the one that makes everybody smile and gives everybody energy."

Redfearn said she utilizes those tactics during the game as well.

"Sometimes the intensity just gets to be too much on the field," Redfearn said, "so I try to lighten things up a little bit. It’s so tense out there. I try to loosen everybody up. You have to stay loose."

Redfearn said all the questions that the team entered the season with and, in some instances, are still trying to answer never deterred this squad.

‘"We didn’t see any of it as adversity," Redfearn said. ""We just thought, "We can get better. We’re going to get better.’ We just embraced whatever came our way."

For Fernandez, is almost too strange to believe that her four years are almost up with the Cajuns. There’s not much time for reflection this weekend and next week for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

She’s too focused on ending her career at the College World Series in Oklahoma City.

And, of course, sticking to the process.

"This team may be young, but it’s done a great job of focusing on the next pitch, the next game all year long," " Fernandez said. "This team may be young, but it was not a very hard team to lead at all. Everybody was focused from the beginning."

With that said, Fernandez has actually thought about life after UL softball, revealing that her and her father have joked about traveling with the team next year to feed their addiction.

"I think it’s going to be tougher on him than it is for me," laughed Fernandez, who will likely be in graduate school in occupational therapy in Shreveport or New Orleans. "But it’s crazy. It’s hard to imagine that it’s almost over."

UL Monroe at No. 13 UL

Series: 2 p.m. doubleheader Saturday; 1 p.m. signle game Sunday.

Site: Lamson Park.

TV: KLAF (Saturday only).

Radio: KPEL 1420 AM.

Records: ULM 22-22, 6-11; UL 38-7-1, 16-1.

Top Pitchers: ULM – Samantha Hamby (14-13, 3.48 ERA, 142.2 IP, 76 K); UL – Christina Hamilton (21-1, 1.26 ERA, 160.2 IP, 153 K).

Top Hitters: ULM – Miyuki Navarette (.375, 4 HRs, 18 RBIs); Rochelle Roberts (.349, 1 HR, 10 RBIs); Alexis Cacioppo (.347, 7 HRs, 37 RBIs); Faith Bohack (.321, 7 HRs, 37 RBIs); UL – Natalie Fernandez (.436); Lexie Elkins (.379, 16 HRs, 59 RBIs); Haley Hayden (.323, 13 HRs, 49 RBIs);