Cajuns softball team, with new coaching lineup, splits in Texas

HOUSTON — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette softball team opened its season Saturday afternoon with its own version of the famous Abbott & Costello comedy act.

Instead of asking who’s on first, the No. 11-ranked Cajuns were trying to sort out who’s coaching first? And who’s coaching third? And who’s making pitching changes?

One day after longtime co-head coach Michael Lotief surprisingly stepped down and took the role of volunteer assistant, the Cajuns began the year splitting two games in the Hilton Plaza Classic at the University of Houston’s Cougar Softball Stadium.

ULL beat Lipscomb 5-2 in the afternoon, before falling to Iowa in the nightcap, 13-10.

Coaching third was newly named interim head coach Megan Granger, who was an infielder on the team eight months ago, before being hired as an assistant coach over the summer. Now, the 24-year-old is one of the youngest head softball coaches in the NCAA, and in charge of the No. 11 team in the nation.

“The coaching mindset really doesn’t change. We are just trying to get better and win,” Granger said. “I don’t think just because of a title anything changes. Today wasn’t about me. It’s about a journey these girls started last fall.”

Lotief, who won 500 games in 10 seasons as co-head coach, briefly took over as head coach when his wife, Stefni, stepped down in the summer. On Saturday, however, he was just a volunteer in the first-base coaching box.

“Our kids had a really tough week, and this field here today was our sanctuary,” Lotief said. “I don’t think any of the drama going on had anything to do with the outcome today.”

While there wasn’t much confusion on what to expect from the returning players, who went 53-6 last year, the game-day roles of the coaches were a work in progress.

Both Lotief and assistant coach Josh Johnson came out to the mound at different times to talk with ULL pitchers throughout the games.

Lotief began the first game coaching first base, but was replaced by outfielder Megan Waterman in the third inning. He returned to the coaching box in the second game. It was also Lotief who came out of the dugout to talk with the home plate umpire about a hit-by-pitch call made in the second game.

Granger coached from third base the entire game and made all of the double-switches. She appeared to give way to Lotief when rallying the team after the last out of innings.

“I’m still having fun out there, and I was into every pitch” Lotief said. “I love these kids. I fight with them, and I support them and will do anything I can do to help them grow into good people.”

The coaching carousel started in July when Stefni Lotief stepped down citing family issues. Pitching coach Joy Webre-LeBlanc resigned in December, also citing family issues. Johnson was hired in August as the program’s second assistant.

The coaching changes didn’t seem to have any negative impact on the diamond in the first game, as senior shortstop Nerissa Myers homered in the Cajuns’ first at-bat. She finished the day with three hits, three RBIs and four runs scored.

Brianna Cherry also had two hits and two RBIs in the first game, helping Jordan Wallace (four innings, one run, eight strikeouts) earn the win. Victoria Brown pitched the final three innings for the save.

“You can take a lot from the first game,” Myers said. “We are going to fight to the end of every game. We scored a lot of runs today and we can build on that.”

In the second game, Iowa blasted off to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and led 9-4 in the fourth inning.

Much of the damage was done by the Cajuns, who committed three errors and hit two batters with the bases load.

Matte Haack had two hits, three RBIs and two runs to lead the Cajuns in the second game.

The Cajuns will continue in the Hilton Plaza Classic at 11:30 a.m., Sunday with a rematch against Iowa.