LAFAYETTE — When Louisiana-Lafayette softball coach Michael Lotief first scouted catcher Lexie Elkins, he saw a player with offensive power and dominant athleticism.
That was six years ago and after a brief career diversion in Texas high plains country, Elkins is delivering the production for UL-Lafayette that Lotief once envisioned.
Elkins, who has caught all 58 games in her first UL-Lafayette season, is batting .388 with a team-leading 23 home runs and 72 RBIs.
Lotief said Elkins has been the team’s defensive anchor, helping handle the emergence of junior Christina Hamilton, who has pitched UL-Lafayette to the program’s sixth Women’s College World Series appearance. The Cajuns play Kentucky at 6 p.m. Thursday in a first-round game at the WCWS.
Last year Elkins, however, was in a different place and a situation hundreds of miles away from Lafayette, a brief episode Elkins seems eager to forget.
Elkins was just 17 when she signed with Texas Tech and skipped her final high school semester to become a starting catcher on a Big 12 Conference team.
After just one season, Elkins was ready to leave Lubbock and she said UL-Lafayette was the place that presented the most comfortable alternative.
“I was always considering (UL-Lafayette), but instead I went with the bigger school (Texas Tech) and thought that’s where I wanted to be,” Elkins said. “I probably hadn’t matured enough at that point. It was a situation of my going there early and then in a couple of weeks, I had to be ready to play.”
Elkins left East High in Victoria, Texas in December, 2012, and enrolled at Texas Tech the next month.
She signed in November, 2012 with Texas Tech. She started 42 of 47 games, hitting .282 with eight doubles.
Elkins’ 2013 statistics left Lotief a little perplexed.
“That’s one thing that came up in the conversations we had when (Elkins) transferred here,” Lotief said. “I was puzzled. You could tell she had a good average and a good on-base percentage, but she didn’t have that many extra base hits and no home runs.
“I know (Elkins) and I spend a lot of time talking about that. For a kid that has that kind of hand and eye (coordination), I told her she could be one of the best power hitters in the country.”
Lotief said Elkins’ statistics at Texas Tech did not match the type of player he saw when she played for the Houston Gold travel team as an teenager.
“When I watched her in travel ball, you saw her build and athletic ability and you could see that she stood out,” Lotief said.
Lotief won’t speculate about what happened while Elkins was at Texas Tech.
“Something transpired between her and her situation at (Texas Tech),” he said. “Once that blew up, and she was released to move on, we were one of the schools on her list,” said Lotief.
Elkins said she gradually began adjusting to Lotief’s hitting techniques with a bit of incredulity during fall practices.
“The first thing that I learned from my teammates is that it takes time, and you have to trust the process. “It was a lot different than anything I had been taught, but it’s all about trusting (Lotief) and once you do, you begin to get it done.
“I mean some of the stuff that he was having me do, it was like, that’s just crazy.”
The Cajuns were also seeking a starting catcher, as Elkins realized when she arrived in Lafayette.
“I didn’t know they needed one, and there were some big shoes to fill,” Elkins said.
Lotief said the Cajuns needed a replacement for All-American Sarah Draheim, at a position that seems natural for Elkins.
“The thing that doesn’t always show up is how physically tough she is,” Lotief said. “She’s caught every pitch, basically. To take that beating behind the plate and calling the pitches, it’s exhausting and takes a toll.
“That hasn’t affected her offensively and affected her physically. She’s just been at the top of her game mentally and physically all season.
Elkins said no one underestimates Hamilton (29-2).
“She’s working hard and getting the job done. Obviously she is also mentally and physically tough,” Elkins said.
Elkins said she’s not surprised about the difference a year has made in her career.
“I’ve just trusted my teammates,” she said. “I’ve also undergone some changes in how I bat. I think the system may not work as fast for others as it did for me,” said Elkins.
The Cajuns practiced Sunday and Monday and then flew to Oklahoma City at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. Wednesday is a practice day at Hall of Fame Stadium, weather permitting. ... Lotief said he is familiar with Kentucky softball coach Rachel Lawson, who coached at Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt Conference from 2005-07. ... This is Kenutcky’s first WCWS appearance. ... Kentucky is batting .264 with 67 homers. The Cajuns are batting .307 with 88 home runs and 354 RBIs. ... Wildcats opponents have batted .223. Teams have hit .215 against UL-Lafayette.