Here’s my thoughts on this year’s Sun Belt Conference. There are ten teams in the conference that play softball. They are: Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy and UT-Arlington.
The Louisiana-Lafayette (Ragin’ Cajuns) has always been one of the perennial teams in the conference. This year should be no different under the leadership of head coach Gerry Glasco who’s going in to his second year at the helm after the forced departure of longtime team leader Michael Lotief.
With the recent transfer rule changes and what has seemed like an endless movement of players from one team to another the Ragin’ Cajuns look like they faired very well picking up several all-star type of players. One of the biggest pick ups was ace pitcher Megan Kleist who was a 2018 NFCA First Team All-American and the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year who after three years decided to tranfer from Oregon. They also picked up Sarah Hudek who left Texas A&M. Hudek is known for being a good clutch type of hitter. Fellow Texas A&M player Keeli Milligan also transferred to the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Softball program. Milligan is a speedster on the bases having had a record breaking 100-plus runs and stolen bases.
The Ragin’ Cajuns also have returning pitcher Summer Ellyson who last season went 23-10 with a 1.53 ERA with 220 strikeouts to give them a one-two punch along with Kleist. They also have enough big bats coming back from last years team to provide enough runs, because not many should be needed, when you have starting pitching like they do now on their team.
Even though Texas State earned the Sun Belt’s regular-season title last season look for the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns to return to the top of the standings and win the conference title this year. Also look for them to make a nice run come playoff time.
Texas State had a dream season last year winning the conference title and in the WCWS had a loss to CSU Fullerton followed by a win over Sacramento St. before being eliminated by UCLA in the Los Angeles Regional. The problem for this year is the team is dealing with the graduation of star pitcher Randi Rupp. Last season Rupp went 28-12 with a ERA of 1.26 and 317 strikeouts. The team does have some offensive power coming back to help them put runs on the board with players like Hailey MacKay who last season hit .341BA with 12 home runs.
Of the remaining eight Sun Belt Conference teams, Troy and UT-Arlington offer up the most hope for good seasons. But for this year it looks like the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns are the class of the conference and gonna be the team to carry the conference banner in to the WCWS playoffs.
(Update: 1-9-19, After I wrote this posting Megan Kliest announced via her Twitter account that she has decided to stay at Oregon this year as a student to complete her degree there and will put off playing at Louisiana-Lafayette until next season as a graduate transfer.)