The 22nd-ranked Louisiana Ragin' Cajun softball team opens up their 2018 regular season schedule on Thursday, February 8, taking on Samford in the first day of play in the Mardi Gras Classic at Lamson Park.

As we look ahead toward the upcoming season, I have previewed each position on the team, beginning last week.

On Thursday, I previewed the catchers:

On Friday, I took a look at the infield.

On Monday, I spotlighted the outfield.

In today's final segment, I break down the pitching staff.

This is probably the biggest question mark on the team this season.

That doesn't mean that it can't be good, just that it has the most unanswered questions.

I also caution you to let things play out. Normally, the pitching staff looks a lot differently at the end of the year than it does in February.

Heading into 2012, nobody knew who the Cajuns could rely on inside of the circle, after Ashley Brignac, who was getting ready to begin her senior campaign.

Well, a freshman named Jordan Wallace went 27-2 that year, and didn't lose a single game during the regular season.

In 2013, after the graduation of Brignac, Wallace was again the staff ace, but it was Victoria Brown who unexpectedly logged the second-most innings pitched.

In 2014, Christina Hamilton, who began the year as the #3 pitcher, at best, put things all together and had an All-American year, going 29-4 with a 1.56 ERA., while leading Louisiana to the Women's College World Series.

In 2015, with Wallace and Hamilton in their senior campaigns, sophomore Alex Stewart led the team in ERA. (2.09), and was a second-team All-Sun Belt Conference pick.

In 2016, with Stewart being selected as an NFCA All-American, Kylee Jo Trahan was the #2 pitcher, winning 10 games.

Last season, a young freshman named Alyssa Denham impressed early, and wound up winning 15 games.

As you can see, when it comes to pitching, a lot of unexpected things can happen, so remember to let things play themselves out.

Trahan is going to be relied upon, due to her experience and past success.

A senior right-hander from Burkburnett, Texas, Trahan went 10-3 with a 2.41 ERA. in 2016, working as the #2 pitcher, before accumulating a 5.25 ERA. in only 6.2 innings pitched last season.

Trahan is a talent, and it's all a matter of finding consistency. If she's throwing the ball the way she did in 2016, she could easily be the ace of the staff. However, there is also no guarantee she'll even be in the rotation when conference play begins.

If the Cajuns are going to be as good as some believe they can be, they're going to need Trahan to provide solid innings, and I think she'll do just that.

Sophomore right-hander Summer Ellyson is another returnee.

Ellyson, over 20 innings pitched last season, compiled a 3.15 ERA.

A former prep standout at Teurlings, Ellyson has looked solid in preseason workouts, and the coaches view her as a key member of the staff this season, either as a starter, or as a "closer" type of relief pitcher.

The final returnee is Alison Deville, who is the only left-hander on the staff.

A native of Port Barre, Deville has only pitched 4.1 innings over her career. UL will be asking more of her this season.

In terms of the newcomers, and there are a number of them, right-hander Casey Dixon is probably a little ahead of the others heading into the season.

A freshman from Willis, Texas, Dixon was named the 2016-17 Gatorade Texas Softball Player of the Year, finishing her senior year with 439 strikeouts, 1.42 ERA, 14 shutouts, five no-hitters, and a perfect game.

The other freshmen are all right-handers; Kirsten Pruett, Carrie Boswell, Makenzie Carpenter, and Samantha Bradley.

Pruett, Carpenter, and Bradley are all redshirt freshmen, who gained valuable experience last season, pitching against some of the top hitters in the country during practice and scrimmages, while Boswell, a true freshman from Alexandria, La., is a good athlete, who could also be used as a hitter in the future.

Yes, there are question marks concerning this pitching staff.

You don't lose Alex Stewart, Alyssa Denahm, Macie Smith, and Victoria Brown off of a staff from a season ago and not have question marks coming in.

I'm certain there will be some bumps along the way, as the staff gains experience, and coach Gerry Glasco puts together a staff that he can count on once we get into the conference schedule, and the postseason.

On the plus side, this is also a staff that features a number of talented pitchers, and it's easy to see a couple of them emerging.

The key for coach Gerry Glasco will be to find a couple of hot arms, and that may be  different girls at different times of the year.

As we've seen in the past however, a least one unknown really steps up and puts together a good year.

Louisiana, who has the makings of another outstanding team, provided they get pitching, would love to see that happen once again.

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