UL-UH tilt laden with drama

by Walter Pierce

Everyone would do well to forget this weekend's individual drama and concentrate on the big picture. Just win, baby, and the rest takes care of itself.

So the Ragin' Cajun softball team will face Houston in Friday's opening round of the NCAA Softball Championships. How fitting

There are enough underlying stories surrounding this Friday afternoon matchup to push the other teams in the Austin Regional out of the bright-orange spotlight beaming out of the UT Tower. Texas may be the number three national seed and a big favorite to advance out of its regional to a super regional and into College World Series play, but most who know anything about the background will be locked onto the UL-UH game at 4 p.m. Friday.

Texas meets Texas State in a 7:30 p.m. game Friday at UT's impressive Red & Charline McCombs Field, but it's the opener matching the Cajuns and the Cougars that local fans are watching. And they will see a lot of familiar faces.

The most prominent face is UH pitcher Donna Bourgeois, who at this time last year was hurling the Cajuns into NCAA Super Regional competition. The Teurlings Catholic graduate - last year's Louisiana Player of the Year, MVP in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and the pitcher on the All-NCAA Regional team - abruptly transferred to Houston following the season.

No definitive reasons ever came to light for her sudden transfer. Speculation revolved around a perceived decreased role on the Cajun pitching staff  - i.e., not being the "number one" with the return from injury of All-American Ashley Brignac this year. UH spokesmen have already said that Bourgeois would not be available to media outlets for interviews prior to the regional.

Bourgeois shares "number one" duties with Amanda Crabrtree on the UH staff, and it will be interesting to see if Bourgeois gets the call for the NCAA opener and throws against her former teammates.

Adding to the intrigue is UH coach Kyla Holas, who as Kyla Hall was statistically the most dominant pitcher in Ragin' Cajun history during a career from 1991-94 and pitched then-USL to a third-place finish in the College World Series. She's in her 11th year as UH coach, having started the program from scratch - much like her biggest supporter, former Cajun coach and now-retiring LSU coach Yvette Girouard.

"There's not a more competitive person anywhere than Kyla," Girouard said earlier this year. "When she was pitching and playing, she was an absolute bulldog."

Girouard's support was one reason that Holas will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame this summer, becoming the first women's softball player to earn that honor. Before she appears in Natchitoches in late June, though, she'll be part of the soap opera this weekend in Austin.

Another former Cajun pitcher, former All-American Stefni Lotief, coaches the Cajuns and ended her stellar four-year career in 1990, one year before Holas joined the team.

The teams are regulars on each other's schedule, and also played an off-season scrimmage in the fall. UL won that game 7-5, for what that is worth, and the Cajuns have also won six of the last seven meetings between the teams including taking two of three in the 2008 Super Regional to advance to the World Series.

Brignac won both of those Super Regional games in the pitching circle, throwing a two-hit shutout in a 4-0 clinching win, and a week later beat No. 1-ranked Florida in the opening game of the World Series. This weekend will be Brignac's first reasonably healthy NCAA Tournament appearance since that time, after she missed most of the last two seasons with shoulder problems that eventually required surgery. That injury gave Bourgeois the chance to shine, and she more than did that in leading UL to the Super Regional round last year.

If the two of them match up on Friday, it should be fun. But whoever wins, and whoever puts aside all the subplots, needs to remember that someone's got to beat Texas twice before they can start thinking about a World Series trip.

Everyone would do well to forget this weekend's individual drama and concentrate on the big picture. Just win, baby, and the rest takes care of itself.

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