LAFAYETTE, La. - The nationally ranked University of Louisiana softball team's schedule game against Campbell this past Wednesday was called off due to rain, but Ragin’ Cajuns catcher Julie Rawls was not slated to be behind the plate anyway.
It’s all part of a plan designed to keep Rawls physically fit for what the No. 5 Cajuns hope will be a long run throughout the postseason.
“We’re definitely gonna want to rest Rawls as much as we can the last 30 games of the year, try to keep her legs fresh behind the plate,” UL coach Gerry Glasco said in the preseason.
As it’s turned out, the Cajuns are doing it early in the season too.
Rawls, hitting .302 with a team-leading 13 RBI so far this year, has started 15 of UL’s 19 games at catcher.
The converted outfielder also has opened two games in right field and one in centerfield.
And that’s just fine by her, mostly because of how things went last year, when Rawls spent more time than ideal behind the plate, starting 48 of 57 games there during a season in which UL made it to an NCAA Super Regional at Ole Miss.
Late in the year, all the up and down work caught up to the senior from Hallsville.
“My legs were dead,” Rawls said before the 2020 season got under way, “and I think that carried onto my hitting.”
Rawls finished with a .360 batting average and 10 homers in 2019.
Four of those blasts came in March, when she hit .526.
“I started losing home runs (late in the season),” said Rawls, who also played basketball in high school. “I was very tired. I just wasn’t used to it.
“So I think that’s going to be a big help this year, getting Geana (Torres) back there, getting her some experience, because she doesn’t have any, helping her for next year, and then I will be able go in the outfield. I think that’s nice.”
So far it’s worked out much as expected for Rawls, who made the switch from the outfield to catcher during her first fall with the Cajuns – in 2018 – after transferring from Northwestern State, where she played two seasons, to UL.
She gets a break behind the plate, and a bit more opportunity to hone her bat at it.
The move paid dividends defensively last year, too, as the Cajuns decreased their number of successful opponent stolen bases from 58 in 2018 to just 24 in 2019.
Rawls threw out would-be base thieves at a 32 percent clip that season, gunning down nine herself.
Torres, meanwhile, has done what Glasco calls “a great job” for UL this s season.
The sophomore from Spaulding High in Rochester, New Hampshire, is hitting .375 in eight at-bats over seven games in her first year as a Cajun after transferring to UL from Missouri, where she hit .294 in 39 games last year.
Her presence provides much-needed relief for someone who, even in her second season at the spot, is still figuring out a new position.
“The transition (to catcher) wasn’t as bad as I thought it was gonna be,” said Rawls, who played in the outfield at Southland Conference-member Northwestern State and both at third base and in outfield in high school. “I had a lot of help.”
Some of it came from former Cajuns catcher Lexi Comeaux, who moved mostly out from behind the plate as a senior last season.
Much has come as well from UL assistant coach Lacy Prejean, a Carencro High product who started at catcher during all four years of her college career at Alabama – an All-SEC pick, she was the conference’s Freshman of the Year in 2000 – who went on to play for the USA Baseball Women’s National Team in 2006.
“I’m still learning every day,” Rawls, who threw out her first wannabe base robber during a doubleheader at Texas last week, said last month.
“I’m still learning different tips and getting to know the game a little bit better from back there behind the plate, because it’s so much different.
“But I love being back there,” she added. “I love being that kind of leader now.”
ALL ABOUT THE SCHEDULE
One reason to be so fond of the job is that this season she’s getting to catch two standout pitchers, senior Megan Kleist, a 2018 NFCA First Team All-American as a junior and the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year before transferring from Oregon to UL, and senior Summer Ellyson, an NFCA third-team All-American and the Sun Belt Conference’s Pitcher of the Year for the Cajuns last season.
“I like building relationships with my pitcher,” Rawls said.
“Me and Summer have a great time, and I’ve built that relationship with Kleist, so it’s really exciting.”
Just as fun for Rawls, though, is the time she still gets to spend in her old stomping grounds, the outfield.
“They give me a hard time … so I try give them a hard time back when they’re making throws to home,” she said of this year’s Cajun outfielders, a group that includes usual starters Taylor Roman in right, Raina O’Neal in centerfield and Kendall Talley or Sarah Hudek in left.
“If they’re not perfect,” Rawls added, “I’m gonna let them know.”
Glasco, for his part, lets Rawls know she can expect to get whatever rest she needs so those legs really are as fresh as can be several weeks from now.
That’s the case especially now that UL, which is scheduled to play its lone home against Campbell of the Big South amid a stretch with 14 of 15 on the road, has made it through one of the toughest parts of its schedule.
The Cajuns opened Sun Belt play with a three-game weekend series that opened Friday at Coastal Carolina.
And they still have a doubleheader at Florida State followed by a single game at Alabama coming in mid-April.
But they’re done with a span that since Feb. 15 has featured nine of 12 games coming against Top 10 opponents – a home/away split with then-No. 7 LSU, a neutral site split with then-No. 8 Oklahoma State in Birmingham, a doubleheader split at then-No. 3 Texas and last weekend’s 2-1 series win at then-No. 6 Florida.
“We’ve got to be careful with (Rawls), I think,” Glasco said Monday.
“She’s really quick. She works very hard back there. Then if you look at her (5-foot-7) frame she’s extremely athletic, but she’s built more like a wide receiver than a typical catcher.
“So I think if she does wear down a little bit … I want to get (Torres) back in the rotation as much as I can,” Glasco added. “And now that this stretch is over, I think we can use our team depth to rest all of our players a little bit more and still maintain a good rhythm as we go through these last 39 (regular-season) games.”