Softball: Replacing Sarah Hudek no easy task for UL softball
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, July 2, 2020
For a while after the 2020 college softball season was cut short, UL coach Gerry Glasco was not sure if standout senior Sarah Hudek would return in 2021.
It would be her sixth season of college ball — on two different sized diamonds.
But Hudek had the option, as she and all others were granted an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic stopped play in mid-March.
“But it (became) pretty clear in my head that she was trying to walk away from the game so she could get on with her life,” Glasco said in a telephone interview.
“So as soon as I realized what our roster was going to be I started trying to make sure, ‘Do we want to stay where we’re at, or get stronger?’”
The answer was obvious.
UL's Sarah Hudek makes a catch at first base to get the runner out as the Ragin' Cajuns take on the LSU Tigers at Yvette Girouard Field on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. (Photo: James Mays/Special to the Advertiser)
Critical to making it happen was finding someone who could follow in the footsteps of Hudek, a product of George Ranch High in Texas who began her softball career with a two-year stay at Texas A&M in the 2017 and ’18 seasons, transferred to UL for 2019 and hit better than .315 for the final three seasons of college play.
It also soon became apparent to Glasco, however, that it would take more than one to fill that role.
UL's Sarah Hudek connects with the pitch as the Ragin' Cajuns take on the University of Texas Arlington Mavericks in a double-header at Yvette Girouard Field on Saturday, April 6, 2019. (Photo: James Mays/Special to the Advertiser)
He’d have to divvy things up.
“Hudek is so good of a player because she can play first base at a high level, she can play outfield at a very high level, and she can step in there and hit and really was good offensively,” said Glasco, whose club was ranked No. 1 in national NCAA RPI ratings when the season ended.
“And,” he added, “it’s not fair to expect one player to step in.”
Hudek, an All-SEC Defensive Team selection while starting all 62 games of her sophomore season at Texas A&M in right field, began her junior season with UL in right before moving to left field at the start of the Sun Belt Conference season.
But the Sun Belt’s 2019 Newcomer of the Year split time between left field and first base in the shortened 2020 season, opening 14 of nationally ranked 18-6 UL’s 24 games at first.
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So one of the first things Glasco did with Hudek’s departure in mind was to sign Land Lake (Illinois) College juco transfer Frankie Izard, an addition announced by UL in early May.
Izard, Glasco said, is someone “who will give us a little bit of speed in the outfield and (who) also has power with the bat.”
Hudek had 11 homers while hitting a UL personal-high .331 in 2019, and four homers while hitting .319 in the abbreviated 2020 season.
She also had 12 home runs while hitting a career-high .363 in her second season at Texas A&M.
“She hasn’t shown it in games,” Glasco said of Izard, a product of St. Joseph-Ogden High in Illinois who hit .512 as a juco freshman and .468 this year. “But if you followed her for a few years like I have, you’d realize … she has the potential to hit four or five home runs a year for us as well.
“So we’ll see how it all plays out. Frankie’s a lot different player (than Hudek). She’s a real speed kid.
“She plays more like (returning starting second baseman Kaitlyn) Alderink offensively,” Hudek added. “But we’ll try to develop (Izard) some in the power (game), and I think she can give us some help.”
Less than three weeks after the addition of Izard was revealed, UL announced the signing of former South Carolina outfielder and pitcher Karly Heath.
And about two weeks after that, the Cajuns signed yet another outfielder, Jenna Kean, a transfer from Arizona who appeared in 110 games over two-plus season for the Pac-12’s Wildcats.
“Her defense and throwing ability from the outfield have the potential to impact our team in a very positive way,” Glasco said of Kean, who was hitting a career-best .353 when the 2020 season was halted.
The speedy base-stealing threat from Los Alamitos High in California was successful on all but two of her 20 career attempts while at Arizona.
Kean, who can both slap and hit away, also batted.313 as a part-time starter for the Wildcats’ 2019 Women’s College World Series team.
As an SEC freshman in 2019, Heath appeared in 44 games including 21 starts as an outfielder and hit .315 with five homers and 16 RBIs.
The product of North Augusta High in South Carolina also went 8-0 in the circle that year, and 5-0 while exclusively pitching in 2020.
“Karly Heath is very, very much like Hudek — but Hudek as a freshman, when I first got her at Texas A&M,” said Glasco, the associate head coach of the Aggies from 2015-17 before taking over as UL’s head coach in 2018.
“Hudek had played a year of college baseball as a pitcher, and came in kind of raw offensively but developed into a really good hitter.”
Even before she went to Texas A&M, Hudek’s college career got under way with 13 baseball pitching performances at Bossier Parish Community College in 2016.
Heath, meanwhile, averaged a home run in every 15 at-bats while getting 73 at-bats splitting time as a pitcher and part-time outfielder while a freshman at South Carolina.
“So I think there’s a lot to work with there,” Glasco said. “(Heath) also has the same speed as Hudek had.
“She’s capable of stealing a base. She’s capable of scoring from second on a single any time there’s two outs. She’s gonna score from first on a double off the wall.
“So,” Glasco added, “she (Heath) gives us that type of intangibles Sarah had offensively, yet she’s a couple years behind (compared to Hudek as a senior).”
So UL will have plenty of new outfield options.
At first base, five Cajuns got starts when Hudek was in the outfield — with returnee Carrie Boswell, an Alexandria Senior High product who also pitched for the Cajuns in 2018 and ’19, getting most of them.
Another Cajun who made at least one start at first in 2020 was Brittany Holland, a juco transfer from Central Arizona College who also opened five games at third base.
“We’ve got enough talent with the depth on our ballclub,” Glasco said.
“I’m looking for Holland to give us competition at first base. She can give us good hitting. And I look for (Kendall) Talley to be out there in the outfield. I look for Boswell to do (some of) those things (Hudek did). We don’t need one person to step up and replace her.”