LAFAYETTE – Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Softball shortstop DJ Sanders and outfielder Aleah Craighton were both named to the 2017 National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division I All-America First Team, the Association announced on Wednesday afternoon.
Sanders picked up her first career All-American honor on the strength of leading the nation in home runs and every major statistical category along with her finest season defensively.
Craighton, a second-team honoree in 2016, was an All-American choice for the second straight season after delivering a third straight season of double digit home runs and 40-plus RBI.
“What a great honor, not only for DJ and Aleah, but for ‘Us’,” Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Softball head coach Michael Lotief stated. “We are extremely proud of how they earned it: by dealing with and overcoming adversity, daring greatly and striving valiantly, being a soldier day-by-day, and always pushing harder to improve each and every day.
“We also recognize what they both represent besides being great athletes or hitting home runs: their compassion for others, the humility and grace with which they compete, never arrogant or seeking the spotlight and the excellence they pursue in the classroom and their faith and resolve to our Cajun values,” Lotief added. “They are truly All-Americans and we’re so grateful to this community and our University family for nurturing, loving and supporting ‘Us’ as we continue to chase our dreams.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns had multiple All-American selections for the seventh consecutive season (2011-17) and joined Arizona, Florida, Florida State, LSU and Minnesota as the only schools with multiple first team recipients.
It’s the 16th time overall that Louisiana has produced multiple All-Americans in a single season.
The last time the Ragin’ Cajuns had two first team All-Americans in the same season was in 1995 when Cheryl Longeway and Kathy Morton received the distinction.
The selection of Sanders and Craighton to the 2017 NFCA Division I All-America team increases the total number of All-American selections in Ragin’ Cajuns Softball history to 53.
Adding Sanders to the list with her first career All-American selection, there are now 32 different individuals that have been bestowed All-American honors in Ragin’ Cajuns Softball history. The program has had at least one individual named to the All-America team in 26 of the past 29 seasons (since 1989).
Sanders becomes the first shortstop in program history to earn first team All-American status. Craighton adds her name to a prestigious list of Ragin’ Cajuns outfielders to earn first team recognition: Dorsey Steamer (1992), Kathy Morton (1994, 1995), Tiffany Clark (2000), Danyele Gomez (2006), Holly Tankersley (2008) and Christi Orgeron (2012).
Sanders and Craighton were both named to the NFCA All-Central Region First Team back on May 18 which made them eligible for All-American honors.
A Top 10 finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year and Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, Sanders led the nation in runs per game, home runs, home runs per game, RBI, RBI per game, total bases and slugging percentage at the completion of regular season play. Defensively, she committed only one error in Sun Belt play over 72 chances and just seven the entire season through 154 total chances.
The Columbus, Miss., product finished her junior campaign hitting a team-and career-best .388 with career-high totals in home runs (29) and RBI (82). Nearly half of her 62 hits produced were home runs, she recorded seven games of multiple home runs and tied the NCAA single-season record for grand slams with six.
Sanders led the Ragin’ Cajuns with 20 multiple-RBI games, tallying three or more 14 times. Her 82 RBI are the fourth-most recorded in program history and most since former three-time All-American Lexie Elkins totaled 83 in 2015.
Craighton continued to be a reliable source of power and run production for Louisiana, reaching double digit home runs (18) and generating 40-plus RBI (53) for a third straight season. She concluded the 2017 season with a .345 average and collected 50 hits, reaching the mark for a third time.
The Prairieville, La., native ranked Top 50 nationally in nearly every major offensive statistic including runs, on base percentage, walks, home runs, slugging and RBI. Half of her hits (25-of-50) went for extra bases as she upped her career extra base hits total to 83 – posted 20-plus extra base hits for the third consecutive season.
The Sun Belt Conference’s Female Student-Athlete of the Year for the 2016-17 academic year, Craighton was once again among the leaders in SBC play ranking Top 5 in in average (.410), slugging percentage (1.049), on base percentage (.593), runs (32), RBI (31) and home runs (12), and Top 10 in total bases (64).
The Ragin’ Cajuns finished the 2017 campaign with a 47-8 overall record and a 23-1 mark in Sun Belt Conference play which set a record for conference victories. Louisiana claimed its fourth straight Sun Belt Conference championship, and 15th overall in the 17 years of league competition since 2001, and repeated as the league’s postseason tournament champion.
The 2017 squad secured the program’s 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, extended the string of 40-win seasons to 19 straight and had the program competing for an NCAA Regional championship for the 10th consecutive year.