Louisiana-Lafayette’s DJ Sanders and LSU’ss Allie Walljasper took the torch for their programs by virtue of their major awards on the 2017 All-Louisiana Collegiate Softball Team.
Sanders, a junior shortstop from Columbus, Miss., gives the Ragin’ Cajuns six Hitter of the Year awards in the last seven seasons and 10 in the last 15. Walljasper, a junior right-hander from Manteca, Calif., extends the Tigers’ streak of Pitcher of the Year honors to three.
The Freshman of the Year is UL Lafayette’s Alyssa Denham, a right-handed pitcher from Alvin, Texas. If tradition holds, she’ll become a torchbearer, too. The previous six Cajuns to win Freshman of the Year eventually won Louisiana’s major hitting or pitching awards.
It’s not business as usual everywhere, however. Designated player Danelle Billings is the first LSU-Alexandria athlete to win a major award — the junior from Nixa, Mo., is Newcomer of the Year. And Mark Montgomery is a drought-breaker, giving Louisiana Tech its first Coach of the Year since 1988.
A Louisiana Sports Writers Association panel of media and sports publicists selected the All-Louisiana team, based on statistics and performances through the teams’ conference tournaments. Those statistics were used in this story.
Sanders tied an NCAA season record with six grand slams and led Division I with 1.73 runs per game, 28 home runs, 0.55 homers per game, 78 RBI, 1.53 RBI per game, 154 total bases and 1.055 slugging percentage. She hit .397 and was a USA Softball Player of the Year Top-10 finalist.
Sanders’ plus-10 advantage in Hitter of the Year votes — 12 for her, two apiece for Billings and LSU outfielder Bailey Landry —was the largest in four years. Billings and Landry were first-team selections. Landry is All-Louisiana for the third time and on the first team for the second time (also 2015).
Walljasper was 16-4 with a 1.21 ERA, 11 shutouts and 138 strikeouts in 135 1/3 innings. She pitched a one-hitter to beat Tennessee 1-0 and snap the Vols’ 20-game winning streak. She helped LSU reach the Women’s College World Series for the third consecutive year.
Walljasper collected nine votes for Pitcher of the Year, Runner-up was UL Lafayette’s Alex Stewart, who shared the 2016 pitching award with LSU’s Carley Hoover. Stewart repeated as first-team All-Louisiana, but Hoover made the second team after first-team berths the past two seasons.
Denham was 15-2 — she beat SEC top-five teams Alabama and Texas A&M — and had a 2.20 ERA with five shutouts and 73 strikeouts in 124 1/3 innings. She was the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year and All-Louisiana honorable mention.
Billings, a transfer from Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., hit .480 with 18 home runs, a school record, and 76 RBI. Billings was the Red River Athletic Conference Player and Newcomer of the Year, and she led LSUA to a third-place finish in the NAIA World Series — the best national finish for the 5-year-old program.
Montgomery, in his fifth season at Louisiana Tech, led the Lady Techsters to their first NCAA Tournament berth and conference tournament championship since 2008 and a 38-24 record — their most victories since 1995. The Techsters surged from off the radar, having no preseason All-Conference USA players but landing a program-record six on the end-of-season team.
Montgomery received six votes for Coach of the Year, two more than LSU’s Beth Torina, a runner-up for the third time. (Torina was 2015 Coach of the Year.) McNeese State’s James Landreneaux and UL Lafayette’s Michael Lotief also received multiple votes.
Same as last year, UL Lafayette and LSU combined for nine of the 12 All-Louisiana first-team selections. For the 10th consecutive year, the Cajuns lead the state in first-team selections. They produced six, their most since seven in 2012.
UL Lafayette’s other first-team selections are Kassidy Zeringue at second base, Kara Gremillion at third base and Aleah Craighton and Haley Hayden in the outfield. Gremillion and Sanders are the only unanimous selections this year. Gremillion is the only first-team sophomore. Hayden is first-team All-Louisiana for the fourth time and the second time in the outfield (also 2014). She played second base her other two seasons. Craighton is a repeat first-team selection and, like Sanders, first-team NFCA All-America.
Also on the first team are LSU catcher Sahvanna Jaquish, McNeese State utility player Erika Piancastelli and Louisiana College’s Mattie Stine at first base. Jaquish is first-team All-Louisiana for the fourth time. Piancastelli — a junior who already holds McNeese and Southland Conference career records for walks and the McNeese career record for RBI — was second team in 2015 and 2016.
Leading the second team are McNeese with four selections and Louisiana Tech with three. McNeese’s representatives are pitcher Rachel Smith, Carleigh Chaumont at second base, outfielder Justyce McClain and designated player Alexandria Saldivar. Representing Tech are pitcher Krystal De La Cruz, outfielder Morgan Turkoly and Jazlyn Crowder at utility. Turkoly, a sophomore, is a repeat second-team selection.
Also on the second team are Lexie Comeaux of UL Lafayette at catcher, Mahalia Gibson of Southeastern Louisiana at first base, Jordan Rains of Northwestern State at third base, LSU’s Julinn Torres — who hit .430 in four seasons — at shortstop and Samantha Mracich of Nicholls State in the outfield.
Fifteen student-athletes received honorable mention. This is the 32nd year of All-Louisiana softball selections.