April 9, 2012 04:02

UL's softball team dispatched its most recent challengers over the weekend, and remained the Sun Belt Conference's dominant force.


So much for the most recent pretender to the throne.

South Alabama's softball team had the audacity to come to UL's Lamson Park atop the Sun Belt Conference standings over the Easter weekend. Well, make that atop by percentage points, with the Jaguars' 11-2 record (.846 win percentage) marginally higher than the Ragin' Cajuns 5-1 (.833) mark.

By the time the weekend was over, percentage points didn't matter, and the visitors had come up empty on finding any Easter eggs.

The only eggs were on the scoreboard, where South Alabama had 24 of them lined up next to their name. That's all zeros in a 10-inning opener and two following seven-inning games, and instead of post-series handshakes, some of the Cajuns should have introduced the Jaguars to the five-sided piece of rubber between the batter's boxes that signifies scoring a run.

The Cajuns, ranked sixth nationally and maybe headed higher this week, swept the series by scores of 1-0, 2-0 and 3-0 in a three-game throwback to the way softball was played two decades ago. Back then, defense and pitching especially pitching dominated the game, and a big offensive rally was a walk, a stolen base, a bunt and a sacrifice fly.

Since then, the sport has changed radically, and there's not a better example than the Cajun squad that now stands at a mind-numbing 33-1 on the season. They rank in the top five nationally in both batting average and slugging percentage. They're the top scoring team in the nation, averaging well over nine runs per game, and there isn't anyone else close (UCLA is second at 7.75).

Senior Christi Orgeron is the nation's RBI leader by a huge margin (1.94 per game, nobody else is even at 1.5), and there are three other Cajuns in the national top 25. That's the national list, not the Sun Belt list, where UL is in its regular dominant statistical position.

That offensive attack has UL holding the nation's second-best overall record, trailing only California's 36-1 mark. And that attack has helped the Cajuns win games this season by scores of 12-7, 7-6 and 12-11, which they did during March.

But those scores also raised questions about UL's pitching. It seems silly to nit-pick when a team's won more than 97 percent in a sport where perfection is impossible, but UL has had to come from behind 11 times in those 33 wins. Even the team's most die-had fans wondered what would happen when pitchers Ashley Brignac and Jordan Wallace faced top-flight competition in rapid-fire succession.

That competition group was supposed to include South Alabama, which had won six and a row and 14 of 17 since the start of league play. So all Wallace and Brignac did was strike out 31 Jaguars while walking only three in three games. Wallace fanned 16 in the 10-inning opener, Brignac allowed three hits with eight strikeouts and no walks in the middle game and Wallace closed it out with a two-hitter in the finale.

The Cajuns' big bats had the weekend off. That happens over the course of a long season.

That hitting will return soon, and UL will need it for what shapes up as its only other true test in conference play, a series with Florida International (7-3) beginning Tuesday in Miami. But even if it doesn't get back to the gargantuan figures the Cajuns have compiled so far, not to worry. The pitching's just fine, and they're just fine playing the game old-style.

And there's definitely no arguing with the numbers.

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