LAFAYETTE — As the No. 8 Ragin’ Cajuns roll into Statesboro, Georgia, for the first time, the Louisiana-Lafayette softball team will be catching heat on a couple of fronts.
Georgia Southern (28-22, 11-7 Sun Belt) is looking to solidify its standing as a contender in the conference tournament, which is just a couple of weeks away. The Cajuns (35-6, 16-1) have final exams waiting on the horizon next week.
Those obstacles await the Cajuns as they tangle with the Eagles for a doubleheader at noon Saturday and a single-game finale at noon Sunday.
“Issue No. 1 is finals,” coach Mike Lotief said. “They are also in the middle of the conference race and have been grinding nonstop since January. I know they are not at their best physically and they have a lot on their mind mentally.”
Much of the Eagles’ energy has been supplied by a freshman and a senior. First-year pitcher Dixie Raley is 21-10 with a 3.21 ERA; her win total is the most in team history for a freshman.
“Every series (the Eagles) are in, they have a chance to win,” Cajuns associate coach Chris Malveaux said. “There are not a lot of superstars on the team, but they show up every week and compete. (Raley) has been getting a lot of wins for them.”
The Eagles’ lone senior, catcher A.J. Hamilton, is batting .267 and is tied for the team lead with eight home runs. The Cajuns, meanwhile, enter the series as the nation’s top home run-hitting team. They have 87 long balls, a 2.12-per-game output.
Like Raley, Cajuns pitcher Alex Stewart also has reached the 20-win mark: She’s 20-3 with a 1.68 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 142 innings.
“I thought Alex’s mannerisms were the best out of all the pitchers (on both teams) in that Florida series,” Lotief said, referring to the Cajuns’ sweep at the hands of the No. 1 Gators earlier this month. “She had a hostile crowd, some defensive lapses and traffic all around her. Her mannerisms were exemplary.”
The last regular-season chance for the Cajuns to test their road readiness comes against an Eagles team hitting .282. Lydia Witkowski leads the charge for Georgia Southern with a .343 average. Three more Eagles are .300 hitters: India Davis (.330), Morgan Robinson (.301) and Emily Snider (.301).
That test is on deck, as are final exams.
“I want to see some mental toughness, focus, energy and passion,” Lotief said. “That’s how I gauge it.”