Cajuns' Ellyson, Kleist face mound of expectations

Nick Fontenot
Special to the Advertiser
Oregon's Megan Kleist pitches against Washington  during an NCAA Women's College World Series softball game in Oklahoma City, Thursday, June 1, 2017. (Bryan TerryThe Oklahoman via AP)

The expectations for the UL softball team in 2020 rest on the arms of two pitchers.

In the last decade, Ragin’ Cajuns softball fans have watched Christina Hamilton, Jordan Wallace and Alex Stewart be dominant ace pitchers, but the wear of starting just about every game took its toll when the postseason came around.

Even senior Summer Ellyson went through that fatigue last year as she led the nation with 30 wins en route to an All-American selection. 

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So add another All-American in Oregon transfer Megan Kleist with Ellyson and it’s easy to see where the expectations come from. Ellyson said the expectations don’t bother her and she said both she and Kleist are eager to get the 2020 season underway.

“Megan is awesome,” Ellyson said. “We get along well and we complement each other. We both have the same level of intelligence of how we think about the game. We know what to throw to batters and when to throw to batters and how to approach an at-bat.

“There’s always going to be expectations. I’ve done really well the last two seasons and (Kleist) has done well at Oregon. We have to tune it out and focus on this year.”

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UL pitcher Summer Ellyson winds up the pitch in the circle during the final game of the series between the Ragin' Cajuns and Georgia State at Lamson Park in Lafayette Saturday, April 20, 2019.

UL coach Gerry Glasco said the Cajuns are “all in” for 2020 behind Ellyson and Kleist. He said the pitchers are a lot alike, but also very different. Glasco said they’ll continue to develop the other pitchers in the bullpen, but he said he expects either Ellyson or Kleist to be in the circle to start every game.

“Our development is in the bullpen and on the side,” Glasco said. “The kids that aren't starting are important for our future and we won’t forget about them. We are working to develop them, but this year is this year, and if they stay healthy, Summer and Kleist will start all our games.

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“Summer has a tremendous rise ball that sets up an effective drop ball. Kleist has an extremely good drop ball that sets up the rise, and Kleist’s changeup is off the charts. They have different go-to pitches, and we can make them look different even though they’re similar.”

Ellyson said Kleist is the hardest worker she’s seen in practice. She said Kleist has forced her to raise her level of preparation as the duo sets to embark on what they hope is a historic season.

“Megan works hard and pushes me to be better,” Ellyson said. “She works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen and we have a constant competition to push each other to be better. My mental approach stays the same way whether I’m starting or not. I always have to be prepared no matter what. I am happy to have her on my side, but I still have to go out and get better every day.”

Ellyson said she is proud of her record-setting 2019 and she doesn’t shy away from the attention, but she said records are not her end game. She said the Cajuns have a real chance to end the season with a national championship, and that is the main focus of the entire team.

“My goal is not to break records,” she said. “My goal is to help my team win and accomplish what we set out to accomplish. Stats don't matter to me and I don't even like to talk about it. I like to keep myself humble because if not, that is when you get struck down.”