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Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns softball team nationally ranked and loaded with lineup options

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Feb. 11, 2021

The No. 7 Ragin’ Cajuns softball team placed seven players on the All-Sun Belt Conference preseason team, indicating just how loaded the lineup is for a team opening 2021 with lofty expectations hanging overhead.

UL was picked to win the Sun Belt in a unanimous vote of conference coaches.

Pitcher Summer Ellyson was named SBC preseason Pitcher of the Year and shortstop Alissa Dalton the league’s preseason Player of the Year.

Also named to All-Sun Belt preseason team: returnees Kaitlyn Alderink, Raina O’Neal and Julie Rawls, and newcomers Jade Gortarez and Ciarra Bryan.

Here’s what to know about the lineup for UL, which after changes due to inclement weather now is scheduled to open with Louisiana Classics games at Lamson Park against Missouri State (12:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday) and No. 18 Baylor (3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday):

Cut short:Cajuns will never know what could have been at WCWS

Click here for a look at Coach Gerry Glassco, Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns Head Softball Coach.

On the infield: Dalton, Gortarez compete

Gortarez, who played previously at Texas and Arizona State, was added with the purpose of replacing Dalton at shortstop.

But Dalton, a former Sun Belt Player of the Year, returned with an extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to COVID-19.

Cajuns coach Gerry Glasco was in a pickle.

Glasco:Cajuns softball having two super shortstops is 'good problem to have'

He worked Dalton and Gortarez at both shortstop and third base in the preseason, and initially said he’d probably settle on a starting shortstop after deciding which of the two was better defensively at third.

Then Glasco was thrown another curveball.

“The variable that’s come into play in the last week or so,” Glasco said Monday, “is that Melissa Mayeux (18 starts last season) is a really good third baseman as well.

“She struggled some at that position last year, but she’s (come) back much better.”

Alderink started all 24 games last season at second, but Mayeux could see time there too.

Mayeux also is a possible platoon player at first base or as UL’s designated player, along Bailey Curry, Taylor Roman and utility player Carrie Boswell.

“I’ll just wait and see how the pencil works when we’re filling the lineup card out, because there is so much going through my mind and so many different options right now that I don’t want to lock myself into one thing or mislead anybody if I do something different,” Glasco said.

Glasco also is quite high on freshman shortstop Kyleigh Sand, but suggested she may redshirt because she has potential to be a four-year starter.

In the outfield: UL newcomers speedy

UL is jam-packed with speedy outfielders who give Glasco perhaps his fastest Cajuns team since taking over late in 2017, including centerfielder O’Neal, Arizona transfer Jenna King and Georgia transfer Bryan.

Kendall Talley, who started 13 games in left last season, also returns.

Glasco said Bryan, a career .330-plus hitter in four SEC seasons, has “elite speed” but suggested her arm may be her weakest attribute.

Another speedy outfielder is juco transfer Frankie Izard.

King, Talley and Bryan are possible corner starters, and Glasco said he may start by rotating his hottest hitters.

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More:No. 10 Cajuns ready for Sarah Hudek to shine on big stage vs. No. 6 Florida

Behind the plate: Rawls experienced 

Rawls, a two-year Cajuns starter at catcher, also is using the extra year.

Curry and Mayeux both also can catch when Glasco wants Rawls in the outfield, where she started during two seasons at Northwestern State.

Back:Trio of Cajun softball seniors announce they'll return in 2021

Cajuns improve depth in the circle

The Cajuns hope improved bullpen depth helps them replace Oregon All-American transfer Megan Kleist, who along with 2019 Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year Ellyson gave UL a 1-2 punch in the circle before COVID cut the 2020 season short.

Glasco expects Casey Dixon, who had 13 starts in 2018 but has been a reliever since then, and Kandra Lamb, who didn’t play last season, to get starting opportunity early this season, perhaps this weekend, while Arizona transfer Vanessa Foreman gives UL a lefty in the pen.

Related:Cajuns' Ellyson, Kleist face mound of expectations

More:Summer Ellyson perfect in Cajuns' win over Lamar

UL has choices at the plate

Opponent pitching will play a big role as Glasco makes lineup decisions.

Dalton had perhaps the team’s hottest preseason bat, while Curry returns with 15 designated player starts in 2020.

Alderink, Dalton, Mayeux and power-hitter Roman thrive against rise-ball pitchers, while Rawls and infielder Justice Milz – another transfer from Georgia – are best against drop-ball arms.

More:UL's Curry is hitting her stride for the Cajuns