March 25, 2011 at 8:14 PM CDT - Updated June 15 at 9:29 AM
LAFAYETTE, La. – After splitting a pair of non-conference games with Kennesaw State University at home on Tuesday afternoon, the Troy University softball team returns to Sun Belt Conference action this weekend when they travel to face the (19/20) University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
The series begins with a doubleheader on Saturday beginning at 1 p.m., followed by a single game on Sunday between the two teams beginning at 12 noon.
Troy (19-12, 1-2 Sun Belt) enters the game splitting their last 10 contests with a record of 5-5, while Louisiana-Lafayette (24-5, 2-1 Sun Belt) has recorded a 7-3 record over their last 10 contests. The two teams have played some of the nation's best this season, with the Trojans facing nationally-ranked opponents Alabama, California, Auburn, Fresno State and Kansas; while Louisiana-Lafayette has faced nationally-ranked opponents Alabama, Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State and Long Beach State.
The series this weekend will feature two of the best hitting and pitching teams in the Sun Belt Conference. The Trojans enter the weekend third in the conference in hitting at .320, while Louisiana-Lafayette leads the conference at .348. The Trojans also enter the series fourth in the conference in pitching with an ERA of 2.60; while Louisiana-Lafayette enters the series with an ERA of 1.97.
Individually, the Trojans are led by Nikki Hollett (Melbourne, Australia/Wesley College) as she ranks among the best in the Sun Belt Conference and in the nation heading into the series. The junior currently sits atop the conference in home runs and is third in the nation with 16; while also ranking first in hits (44), third in runs scored (35), third in runs batted in (39), tied for the league lead in doubles (10) and first in the conference in total bases (103). Nationally, Hollett ranks 71st in batting average (.423), 12th in runs batted in, third in home runs per game, sixth in slugging percentage (.990) and 38th in runs per game (1.07).
However, she is not alone in decorating the leader board as junior Hayden Gann (Hoover, Ala./Hoover HS) is sixth in the conference in batting average (.406), third in hits (39), fourth in home runs (7) and fourth in total bases (67). Freshman Taylor Smartt (Troy, Ala./Charles Henderson HS) and junior Sarah Shields (Schereville, Ind./Lake Central HS) are also among the league leaders in hitting at .367 and .357, respectively. Freshman Kelly Luquette (St. Amant, La./St. Amant HS) also ranks nationally in sacrifice hits per game, as she is 34th in the nation at 0.28 per game.
Meanwhile, on the mound, senior Ashlyn Williams (Hattiesburg, Miss./Oak Grove HS) has an 8-7 record this season with a 2.24 earned run average. She continues to lead the conference in strikeouts with 139. She also ranks 18th in the NCAA in strikeouts per game at 10.1, recording a season-high 15 against Bradley earlier in this month.
Louisiana-Lafayette will counter with some power of their own as Gabriele, the reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week, is tied with Hollett atop the Sun Belt Conference with 15 home runs. She is followed by teammate Christi Orgeron with 12 this season. The duo also rank among the best in the conference in runs batted in (Orgeron with 48 and Bridges with 46) and doubles (each with eight).
On the mound, the Ragin' Cajuns will send Ashley Brignac, the reigning Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Week, out against the Trojans with a 12-2 record and a 1.41 earned run average. She is second in the conference to Williams in strikeouts with 118. The Ragin' Cajuns will also send out Christian Hamilton against the Trojans, as she has a 6-1 record and a 1.08 earned run average.