Three Super Regional appearances and a trip to the Women’s College World Series in four years is a stretch that can be rivaled by few softball programs in the country.
That is on the resume of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette softball squad that is currently 27-5 and ranked No. 9 in the country. One thing that separates this year’s success from any of the previous three years is the emergence of the tandem of aces on the mound.
Seniors Jordan Wallace, of Weatherford, Texas, and Christina Hamilton, of Leesville, Louisiana, have each had up and down years throughout their time in vermilion and white and have also carried the burden of the team for a season. Both players have been playing at a high level in 2015 and it has been special to see.
“We try not to think about the stats part of it,” Hamilton said. “Honestly, for both of us to be on, even though we’re both not actually on-on, but we will be, it’s a great feeling to know that she (Wallace) can have my back and I can have her back. It’s really amazing.”
The tandem has combined for a 19-4 record on the year and they have been the catalysts for the team’s success following a Women’s College World Series appearance in 2014.
However, both aces have had her share of strife to get to his point.
After garnering All-State honors in Louisiana for her four years at Rosepine High School, Hamilton’s freshman season in 2011 was marred by injury. She missed one month mid-season because of an appendectomy, but finished the year with a 5-1 record with a 2.35 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 44 innings.
The injury bug bit Hamilton in 2012 and she was red-shirted to recover from off-season knee surgery. She did not play much in 2013, earning a 3-1 record in five starts.
Hamilton’s breakout year occurred in 2014 when she put the Cajuns on her back and led them to the Women’s College World Series with a 29-4 record. She earned a few prestigious honors along the way: Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year, the James J. Corbett Award for the top amateur female athlete in Louisiana and the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA) Pitcher of the Year award.
Here are some highlights from Hamilton’s junior season here:
Hamilton said it took help from her team and coaching staff to get her where everyone knew she could be.
“It was difficult for three years because my mind was in a bad place,” Hamilton admitted. “I was very selfish and self-centered. I wasn’t about the team like I should have been and last year something clicked; some of the girls helped get my mind where it needed to be. Once you’re in the right mindset, then it’s not hard to accomplish anything.”
Wallace’s path to stardom was different from her counterpart.
Wallace burst on the scene as a freshman in 2012 and set an NCAA record for freshmen with 21 consecutive wins and finished the season with a 27-2 record. In Wallace’s freshman season, the Cajuns finished with a 53-6 record, which was the best win percentage in school history.
Her success continued in 2013 as she earned a 32-9 record. She acquired a plethora of accolades along the way to leading the Cajuns to the NCAA Ann Arbor Super Regional before losing to the University of Michigan.
Wallace seemed to regress in 2013 as her walks increased and her starts began to diminish with the emergence of Hamilton. Wallace admitted that her mind was in the wrong place.
“We talk a lot about mindset here and I definitely had more of a self-mindset than in the first two years,” Wallace said. “I think I had to get knocked down on my butt a little bit to realize I need to step up and put myself inside the team with my sisters and really trust in the process.”
The trust in the process is something that is a staple of head coach Michael Lotief, who has been the face of UL Lafayette softball for 12 years. The pitchers credit Lotief with their success, as well the team’s, more than anything.
“He’s been the biggest influence anyone can ever have,” Hamilton said. “He’s the one telling us to get our minds right and it’s a journey that’s supposed to prepare us for life and it really does. We are not just here winning and playing softball; it’s really preparing us for life. He is the biggest factor.”
“He told us that it’s probably the biggest life experience of your life,” Wallace said. “You have a different outlook on things. You learn how to be a better person, to compete no matter what you’re doing. It helps you learn to be with different types of people. It’s an all-around great experience and we feel very blessed that we can have this experience here.”
Lotief’s admiration of his pitchers are mutual.
“When the bright lights come on, Christina finds a way to compete and give us her best,” Lotief said. “Her past successes and experience gives us confidence that she will bring her best.
“Jordan has worked extremely hard – starting in the fall – to get stronger, tougher, increase her velocity and endurance. She set new goals and like all true competitors, found a way to learn and grow from last year.”
Wallace and Hamilton admit that they view each other as sisters, but after seeing each other for sometimes six hours at a time, they don’t really hang out much outside of school.
The team has 15 games remaining in the regular season and the team has lived up to, and even surpassed, the expectations of some this season, but Hamilton said the team’s success is not totally based on wins and losses, and a failure to reach the College World Series for a second straight year would not be a disappointment.
“We go out there and play pitch-by-pitch and we try to leave it out on the field,” she said. “If we can go out there as a group and give it up, everything we have, and we don’t make it to the World Series, then I can’t be disappointed.”
A moment in the 2015 season that Wallace said the team may look back on as the momentum turner of their season was the series against Alabama in late February and early March. The Cajuns dropped two of the games in the series, but Wallace said she believed the success they earned extended far beyond the series’ result.
“When we played Alabama, we lost in the first game and after a loss you can choose,” she said. “You can choose if you’re going to come back and fight or if you’re going to lay down, and I think we came back with a lot of fight and it showed we can handle any team in the country.”