Nerissa Myers recovers from injury, leads Ragin’ Cajuns into regional

Senior SS recovers from ankle injury, leads Cajuns into regional

LAFAYETTE — Three games into her freshman season, Nerissa Myers took over as Louisiana-Lafayette’s starting shortstop.

Earlier this season, she started her 184th straight game at the position in an easy 9-1 win over Southern.

Most expected the Petal, Miss., native to remain in that spot for the rest of her senior season and add to a list of accomplishments that already included two All-America honors in her junior year and ranking as one of the top 20 run-producers in Division I history.

That was before she stepped in a hole while walking between ULL’s Lamson Park and the Ragin’ Cajuns’ indoor practice facility, one day after that Southern game. The result was a broken ankle — one that put the rest of her final season in jeopardy.

“Most players would have been done,” ULL coach Michael Lotief said, “but we thought all along that she would find a way to get back on the field. That’s the kind of person Nerissa is.”

It took a painful five weeks, but a hobbling Myers returned to the Cajuns lineup April 6 in a Sun Belt Conference series opener at North Texas. Her second at-bat in that game resulted in a two-run homer. She added a grand slam and six RBIs in the second game of the doubleheader, and the Cajuns went on to sweep the Mean Green.

ULL won 19 straight games after her return, not losing until last week in an eight-inning 1-0 decision to eventual Sun Belt Tournament champion South Alabama in the winners’ bracket finals.

She’s still not at full speed and still wears a brace on that ankle, but she’s still one of the primary reasons the Cajuns are 43-12, ranked No. 17 in the NCAA’s final regular-season RPI listing and are the second-seeded team in this weekend’s Baton Rouge Regional at LSU’s Tiger Park.

Lotief knows how important it has been for his team to have Myers back at her customary leadoff spot heading into the regional opener at 3 p.m. Friday against Northwestern State.

“To me, she’s the best shortstop in the country,” Lotief said. “She gets to balls that other shortstops don’t get to, and she’s got the arm strength to throw runners out in the hole.”

Myers began showing that defensive ability in her last trip to Tiger Park, when she earned all-region honors as a freshman in the 2010 NCAA Regional won by the Cajuns. She went 3-for-4 in the title-game win over Texas A&M, leading ULL’s second win in the event over the Aggies sandwiched around a pulsating 1-0 victory over host LSU.

“It’s going to be great heading over there,” Myers said of this year’s regional assignment. “Coming into the regional four years ago was pretty special, and now I get to play my senior year there.

“I remember us playing well — especially against A&M. We had a lot of senior leadership on that team, and that was good because it was just crazy for me. It was a whole different level ... the LSU fans were just as into the game as our fans were. It was awesome.”

It was hard for many to remember that Myers had played more slow-pitch softball than fast-pitch before that freshman season. She’d played both at Petal High in Mississippi.

“She was still learning the game,” Lotief said of the early part of Myers’ career, “but you could tell she had everything you’re looking for. She had that determination to get better, and she’s still got that every day in practice.”

Myers’ defense kept her in the ULL lineup while she hit .287 as a freshman, but she bumped her batting average by nearly 100 points to .372 as a sophomore, when she also stole 21 bases. She only had one home run in each of those first two years, but made the switch from a primarily slap-style hitter to a more power-oriented approach before her junior year. The result was 13 home runs, 79 RBIs, a .391 average and a .728 slugging mark while leading the nation in runs scored (83).

Even with her ankle injury that cost her 18 games, Myers is still hitting .417 — second-best in the Sun Belt behind only senior teammate Sarah Draheim (.423) — and has eight homers and 37 RBIs heading into the Northwestern State game. She’s one of three Cajuns slugging over the .700 mark.

The more significant numbers, though, are ULL’s 34-4 record when she’s in the lineup compared to the 9-9 mark for the 18 games when she was sidelined. The Cajuns have lost only three times in the last 36 games that she’s started at shortstop.

“Having her there makes us better,” Lotief said, “but she’s one of those players that makes everyone around her better. Regionals are games filled with pressure and excitement, and that’s what she thrives on. She’s special.”