Softball: Louisiana season preview - It's a whole new ball game
Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, Feb. 2, 2018
It’s a whole new ball game.
Despite being a powerhouse marked by stability and consistency for three decades, that’s the best mindset for all involved with the 2018 UL Ragin’ Cajuns softball program this spring.
Just consider the changes.
For the first since UL softball began in 1981, the head coach won’t be a native, resident or ex-player.
Gerry Glasco takes over a program still rebounding in some ways to an offseason of controversy that saw longtime head coach Michael Lotief abruptly dismissed from the program on Nov. 1.
In addition to moving on without Lotief and his tradition of producing top-notch offensive arsenals, two All-American sluggers in shortstop DJ Sanders and outfielder Aleah Craighton, as well as ace pitcher Alyssa Denham transferred.
Some fans have left the program. Some have stayed. Some have returned.
It’s a whole new ball game.
The differences will likely be huge in some areas and smaller in others.
The big question entering Glasco’s first season as head coach is, will the program take a step backward in 2018?
The Sun Belt coaches obviously feel the Cajuns will crawfish at least one level lower, predicting Texas State to win the conference race with UL second.
With the start of the Mardi Gras Classic on Thursday at Lamson Park, longtime UL softball fans will begin the evaluation process into this new era of Ragin’ Cajun softball.
“We’re doing fine,” Glasco said. “It’s not the normal scenario, but it is the scenario we’ve got. No excuses. We’re just going to play. I feel like we’re ready. The kids have been phenomenal in practice. They work hard. They’re very dedicated to getting better. They’ve had a fantastic attitude. They expect to win.”
In addition to losing five of their six first-team All-Sun Belt players from a year ago, the 2018 Cajuns didn’t really have a “fall season,” or at least not one under Glasco.
Typically, UL is one of the most prepared softball teams in the country in February. Practice is different under Glasco.
More: 2018 UL Softball Roster
“I wasn’t here in the fall, but it sounded like the fall was very disrupted and not the normal sequence,” Glasco said. “They probably didn’t get as many coached reps as you normally would. “But we’re learning to maximize our time. One of the things we struggled with at first was the pace. I wanted the pace to be quick. I want them to go from one drill to the next one quickly and efficiently. They struggled with that because they’ve never worked on a time schedule. We’re trying to make it efficient.”
Still only a sophomore, he’s not shy at starting with sophomore third baseman Kara Gremillion as the unofficial new face of the program.
“Any conversation about our team has to start with Kara Gremillion,” Glasco said. “She just works so hard. She’s a very special player. She’s a very talented player. She personifies what you look for in terms of hustle and showing up every day and giving her best effort in every drill and in every phase of practice. She’s a quiet leader and I like that.
“In just a few minutes of practice, I knew exactly who she was by the way she played the game. It’s pure hustle. I just adore the way she plays the game.”
“Defensively, I think she’s as good as any shortstop in the country,” Glasco said. “Offensively, she’s a totally different player than DJ. She’ll do it in her own way, but at the end of the year, I expect her to be a really good offensive player for us.
“I’ve coached a lot of All-Americans and her talent level is equal to almost every player I’ve ever coached, even in the pro league.”
“What she (Gremillion) lacks vocally, Kelli Martinez makes up for it,” Glasco said. “She’s been a great senior leader for us.”
A big chance for longtime UL fans will be behind the plate. This program has a long history of workhorse catchers. Lexie Comeaux returns there, but Glasco plans on limiting her starts to keep her fresh.
“Lexie looks very good,” he said. “Early on, she had a little bit a sore arm and it’s gotten better. We limited her reps early. Good arm, really quick release and very accurate on her throws. She’s got great leadership ability.
“We’ll try to use two or three people to protect Lexie as we go through the season. We don’t want to burn her out trying to catch 55 or 60 games. We want her healthy in May.”
Sophomore Beth Ashley is another potential option at catcher, as well as in rightfield and first base.
“I feel like we have 12-13 solid players, maybe even 1 or 2 more,” Glasco said, “so expect a revolving lineup a little bit in the first 10 to 15 games.”
Much like the previous regime, Glasco said he’s not a big fan of playing for one run early in games. Unlike the previous regime, he said he’ll bunt to play for a run in tight, late-inning situations.
Glasco said one of the biggest surprises early on is how much speed UL possesses. He foresees two slap hitters this year, but his long-term approach will be slap speed in the 1-2-9 spots in the order.
In the circle, two familiar faces in senior Kylee Jo Trahan and sophomore Summer Ellyson figure to get many of the innings early on.
“Kylee Jo Trahan has looked really good in practice,” Glasco said. “Some days when she looks phenomenal in practice. Summer Ellyson is doing really, really well right now. We’re excited about what she’s showing us in practice and what she can bring to the game. She’s a pitcher who can go up and down, she can change speeds and she’s a tenacious competitor.
“I’m confident someone will emerge and be a really good pitcher for us,” Glasco said. “Who it is I don’t know. You can see how they react in the bullpen, you can see how they pitch in scrimmages but when you get out there with an umpire behind the plate and 2,000 fans in the stands, the mentality of a pitcher really shows. It can show in a good way or it can show in a bad way.”
Glasco hopes one of those options emerges as a closer, which he hopes to regularly utilize to finish out games.
“These days, it’s just not to their advantage to try to go through a lineup three times,” he said.
So this season of change begins for players, coaches and fans alike. Truthfully, no one really knows what to expect.
“I can only be me,” Glasco said. “I have to do the things I feel comfortable doing. To me, it seems like a really good situation, because we’ve got well-coached kids that have had winning success in the past. Normally, when you go into a new program, you go in because they’re losing.
“We’re going in where they’re used to winning and have great passion inside the locker room to keep winning. I feel very fortunate to be where I’m at.”
2018 UL Softball Season Preview
Season opener: 5 p.m. Thursday at Lamson Park in the Mardi Gras Classic.
First road game: Michigan in Judi Garman Classic on March 2.
Sun Belt opener: At Coastal Carolina on March 10.
Returning starters: 3B Kara Gremillion (.320, 4 HRs, 31 RBIs); OF Kelli Martinez (.326, 19 RBIs, 8 SBs); C Lexie Comeaux (.333, 10 HRs, 48 RBIs).
Top newcomers: SS Alissa Dalton, INF Brittany Holland, OF Brittany Rodriguez, INF Jolie Readeaux, UTIL Casidy Chaumont.
Pitching probables: Kylee Jo Trahan (0-0, 5.25 ERA, 6.2 IP, 3 H, 4 BB, 9 K); Summer Ellyson (1-0, 3.15 ERA, 20 IP, 23 H, 4 BB, 23 K); Casey Dixon.