Ashley Brignac to enter Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in Class of 2022
When collegiate head softball coaches from around the nation were courting John Curtis senior pitcher Ashley Brignac in 2007, she returned home from an official visit to the University of Tennessee with the Volunteers uppermost on her list of choices.
“Tennessee was No. 1,” she recalled.
After considering Alabama, Baylor and LSU among a host of pursuers, Brignac had just one visit remaining – 150 miles west on I-10 to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a school, a town and a culture about which, she would later admit, she knew very little.
“I come from a meat and potatoes family,” she said. “I had never, never in my life heard of anyone putting potato salad in gumbo. I didn’t even eat rice.
“But it was the people in Lafayette who won me over. And the (Cajun) culture. I loved the way they turned out and filled the stands every time we played and they made so much noise. UL was like home. And, had I not gone to UL, I never would have met my husband (Blake). UL was a perfect fit. UL was phenomenal.”
And, Ashley Brignac (Domec) was phenomenal at UL.
As a result of her unequaled softball accomplishments on the high school and collegiate levels, Brignac has been elected to the Allstate Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame for 2022. She will be inducted during ceremonies at the Superdome on July 30.
On the diamond, her career statistical successes at both schools almost read like fiction:
• In her final four seasons at Curtis from 2004-07 under Coach Kristy Hebert, Brignac compiled an overall record of 122-4, with four consecutive state championships.
• She struck out 1,454 of the 2,037 batters she faced (71 percent) and had unheard-of earned run averages of 0.00 during her entire junior and senior seasons.
• She was selected as the National Gatorade Player of the Year in 2007.
• As a senior, Brignac was 25-0 with 421 strikeouts as she allowed just 14 hits in 160 innings pitched, with 21 no-hitters and seven perfect games.
“Ashley came to Curtis as a genuine person,” said Hebert who now coaches at Parrish Community High School in Parrish, Fla. “In the classroom, she was grade-driven. She never wanted to make a ‘B’. She knew what she wanted to accomplish. That led to a lot of great conversations.”
Brignac and her coach ate lunch together every day for an entire year.
“There was no such thing as an off-season for her,” said Hebert. “She worked out in the gym day and night. She had great natural ability and she was not going to let anything get in her way.
“I was a little shocked when she picked UL, but she wanted to stay home and make a difference.”
And the difference she made in Lafayette was impactful and immediate.
As a freshman, she was chosen the Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year, the first of three such awards.
She had 13 shutouts, three no-hitters and one perfect game as a freshman, finishing with a 31-7 record.
The Ragin’ Cajuns advanced to the Women’s College World Series where Brignac struck out 15 in a 3-2 victory against No. 1-ranked Florida. UL came home with a fifth-place national finish.
UL was 201-45 during her five-year career which included missing the entire 2010 season with a torn labrum in her pitching shoulder. She still managed to account for 94 of those 201 victories.
“I had the surgery after my sophomore year,” said Brignac. “I had eight anchors placed in my shoulder. I had a long rehab and could not pitch for six months.”
Nonetheless, she still managed a 23-4 record as a senior following the injury.
“I was a different pitcher post injury,” she said. “I was not as fast. I had to develop a new skill with a new arm.
“The riser (fastball) was my everything pitch,” she said. “It was my jam pitch.”
But she also developed a “drop” curve and a screwball.
Sportswriter Dan McDonald covered Brignac’s career at UL for the Lafayette Daily Advertiser.
“As a freshman, she was as overpowering and as dominant as anyone who has ever pitched in the (Sun Belt) Conference,” he said. “She had the riser, the drop and she could spot each pitch.
“But after her injury, she was even more impressive because she had to really learn how to get batters out.”
One might think that the role of a coach with such a talent is to make sure her ace boards the team bus. But Hebert experienced some concerns that many might not realize.
“First of all, imagine how hard it is just to hit a pitch coming at you at 70 MPH from 45 feet away. Well, imagine how hard it is to catch a pitch like that,” said Hebert. “Ashley, she wore out our catchers.
“And what about our fielders? I had to tell them before every game that there was the possibility that they might only get one fielding chance during the entire game because very few batters even hit the ball.”
Brignac’s initial experience as a softball pitcher came at a young age when she put her imagination to good use and was able to master that unorthodox, circular pitching motion within the confines of her bedroom.
“I took a bunch of socks and rolled them into a ball. Then I tried to hit the part of my room where the ceiling touched the corner.”
She would eventually begin her softball experience as a shortstop.
“I wasn’t any good,” she said. “But at 14, I grew from the shortest person in my class to the tallest. I started working on my timing as a pitcher and I felt like I was showing some promise.
“Sports taught me exactly how much a person must work for a chance at success. There are times when you are going through this grind and you wonder how long will this continue? It’s like, where will it get you? But you eventually learn all the work was an investment. It pays off.”
Today Brignac and her husband have two children, Cooper, 5, and Bennett, 1.
As someone who knew first-hand the anguish of major surgery, she now owns, ironically enough, an orthopedic clinic with a specialty: “It’s a one-stop shop for shoulders,” says Ashley Brignac, speaking from experience.
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