LAFAYETTE — Echoing shouts of “Ragin’ Cajuns,” drifted across Lamson Park for a final time Saturday night as about 200 fans enthusiastically greeted a chartered bus carrying the University of Louisiana at Lafayette softball team on its return from a NCAA Super Regional softball tournament.
“Geaux Cajuns” placards outlined in ULL’s red-and-white colors waved in a brisk breeze as applause and even fresh flower bouquets awaited some of the players who searched for their luggage after disembarking from the bus.
Some of the fans wore red caps with the university logo, while others were attired in Ragin Cajuns polo and T-shirts.
Less than 24 hours before, ULL ended its 2012 softball season, 53-6, after the 14th-seeded Cajuns were eliminated following two lopsided losses to Super Regional host No. 3 Arizona State, which advanced to the Women’s College World Series beginning Thursday in Oklahoma City.
ULL won Thursday’s first game 6-0 in the best-of-three series.
Dolores and Ronnie Kairdolf, of Central, came about an hour before the team arrived to meet granddaughter Natalie Fernandez, a starting third baseman for the Cajuns.
Fernandez was scheduled to receive a mixed flower arrangement that included red roses and yellow daylilies as a reward for a special season, said Dolores Kairdolf.
“This team and Natalie’s playing is really something special. I’m so proud of this team. They had guts, determination and they never gave up,” said Kairdolf.
Marjory Micken, of New Roads, came to meet granddaughter Ashley Brignac, a senior pitcher, who started Friday’s first game.
“I came here to represent the family. Ashley’s parents (Joseph and Tammy Brignac, of Kenner) won’t be coming home until Sunday.
“Ashley has texted to me several times, saying she loved me,” said Micken.
Micken’s thoughts before the arrival of the bus turned to years ago when Ashley Brignac was a young girl.
“I used to play ball with her all the time. At an early age, she always wanted to pitch. I used to stand and wait for the ball and before you knew it, the ball would go right past me,” Micken said.
Damon and Theresa Voinche, of Scott, brought their teenage daughter, Korin, and red roses to meet Fernandez and Shelbee Rodgers, of Central.
“Natalie and Shelbee, they’re like family to us. Natalie’s over at the house all the time and Shelbee’s like part of our family,” Damon Voinche said.
Prior of the players’ arrival, 1-year-old Lyanni Santiago, of Lafayette, was running through the stadium parking lot with a short red dress and a yellow regulation softball.
Lyanni “is dressed for the occasion as a fan. It was just a great season and we came out here to show our support,” said Lyanni’s mother, Ashley Santiago, of Lafayette.
Senior left fielder Katie Smith said she wasn’t surprised by the crowd awaiting the bus, which drove to the team to Lafayette following a plane trip from Phoenix to New Orleans.
“Our fans have shown this type of support for us all season, so it really didn’t surprise me with this turnout,” said Smith.
Brignac called the return to Lamson Park and the cheering crowd, “unbelievable.”
Seeing the fans’ energy as she stepped off the bus was something special, Brignac said.
“To see them here as we pulled in the parking lot with this support for us was something that really brought out the emotions in me,” said Brignac.