home sitesearch contact fan about
  Submit/Update Profile  

Search the Network:

Softball: Star search: Cajuns return home to a hero’s welcome

Joshua Parrott • jparrott@theadvertiser.com • May 26, 2008  

Flashes of lightning danced across the dark sky as a crowd of nearly 50 people waited patiently outside the front gates of UL’s Lamson Park late Saturday night. About 30 minutes later, just before 11 p.m., a charter bus carrying the Ragin’ Cajun softball team finally pulled into the parking lot.

Some of the university’s familiar faces – notably director of athletics David Walker and incoming president Joseph Savoie – held signs ready to welcome the Cajuns back to campus. Hours earlier, UL’s softball team used a 4-0 win against No. 8 national seed Houston in Super Regional play to earn its fifth berth in the Women’s College World Series – and first since 2003.

The historic weekend came after the Sun Belt Conference champion Cajuns beat heated rival LSU, led by former UL coach Yvette Girouard, twice last week to win the Baton Rouge Regional.

"This is very big for not only the athletic department but also the university and the conference as a whole," Walker said. "It’s the program that we’re most noted for. They’re just continuing the tradition.

"You couldn’t ask for more dedication or commitment from those ladies. They are the true definition of a student-athlete."

One by one, Cajun players and coaches stepped off the bus wearing bright smiles and unbridled joy. The school’s fight song blared in the background as cheers of "Cajuns, Cajuns, Cajuns" filled the air. Hugs, smiles and high fives were shared by all.

"They’ve made us all so proud," Savoie said. "Whenever one of them needed help the other ones jumped in to support them. They deserve our support. I’m here to make sure they know the university and community supports them."

Joy Webre, an assistant coach on the team, remembered what it felt like getting a chance to play in the College World Series. She was a catcher on the 2003 Cajun team that finished seventh in Oklahoma City.

"I think I was just as excited then as these girls are right now," Webre said. "There’s nothing like the feeling of winning a Regional or Super Regional or going to a World Series."

Vanessa Soto, a senior second baseman on the team, stepped off the bus with a huge smile. The normally stoic LSU transfer struggled to keep her emotions bottled up inside after the final out in Saturday’s decisive Super Regional game.

The celebration was a release of past frustrations for Soto, who lost Super Regional series the previous two years at LSU.

"As soon as I saw the ball in the air I just threw my glove in the air and we all ran to the pitching mound to celebrate," said Soto, who went 4-for-7 with two homers and three RBIs in Saturday’s two wins. "It was one of those great sports moments you dream about as an athlete.

"To actually be a part of that moment was awesome for all of us."

Soto added that fulfilling a childhood dream of advancing to the College World Series is an amazing feeling. The 16th-ranked Cajuns (51-13) face top-ranked Florida (67-3) on Thursday at a time yet to be determined at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

The long weekend in Houston left Melissa Verde exhausted. After sharing a few hugs Saturday night, the sophomore third baseman was ready to get some sleep.

"We need to let our bodies rest," said Verde, who has played half the season with a torn ACL in her left knee. "Giving it all you have is exhausting. But it’s worth it in the end."

Bobby Neveaux agreed. He’s glad the Cajuns get to bask in the national limelight with every College World Series game airing live on ESPN or ESPN2.

"I’m so excited for the girls because I’ve seen all the hard work they put in since August," said Neveaux, a volunteer administrative assistant for the team. "Our Super Regional was one of only two (out of eight) not to be on TV, so now they get their chance.

"They have an opportunity to go compete on the big stage."