LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette coach Michael Lotief loves March Madness.

As the Ragin’ Cajuns softball team gets ready to host Troy in a Sun Belt Conference series at Lamson Park this weekend, Lotief said he thinks the NCAA basketball tournament embodies great things about collegiate athletics.

“I love this basketball tournament,” he said. “That is the essence of college athletics. Everyone gets on the field and let’s determine a champion. That is the true essence of competition. That is how we do it in softball. That is what we’re fighting for every day — a chance to determine if we’re good enough to be a champion.”

The Cajuns (23-3, 8-1) face a familiar foe in Troy (17-12, 3-3) with two pitchers — junior Ashley Rainey and senior Jaycee Affeldt — who have given UL-Lafayette problems before. Despite the Trojans being under first-year coach Beth Mullins, Lotief said he expects to face a very similar Troy team.

“They are the same team with a new coach,” Lotief said. “They’ve always pitched well and it’s always been low-scoring affairs when we play each other. Rainey and Affeldt know us and they’ve pitched against for three years. It’ll be defensive oriented games.”

The Cajuns have been rock-solid defensively, committing just 12 errors in 26 games. Lotief said he has been exceptionally impressed with freshman D.J. Sanders, who has started every game at shortstop and has just one error.

Sanders’ defense has been lights-out, but she’s struggled at the plate, batting just .262 thus far. Lotief said he knows she’ll come around, but she has to trust the process.

“Defensively she is a stud; offensively, she is still working,” Lotief said. “She’s not going to get it in three or four months. You don’t even get it in a season. That’s just not this game.

“She’s a competitor. Every time she gets out there, she is learning this game. The goal hopefully is by June, she has some things figured out, her heart’s not pounding and her mind is clear. Maybe she has a good approach. In her mind, she knows what she wants to do.”

Getting Sanders going going could be the catalyst to getting the entire bottom of the lineup going, something that has plagued the Cajuns this year. The Nos. 7-9 hitters are hitting .323, with the majority of that coming from designated player Leandra Maly, who leads the team with a .488 batting average.

After Maly was called out five times last weekend against Texas-Arlington for making contact while out of the batter’s box, the senior slapper said she worked all week to make sure the mistake doesn’t happen again.

“That is all I worked on in practice,” Maly said. “I had to make an adjustment. I just wanted to fix my feet and make it not so obvious if I am out of the box or not. I was angry because I know I am better than that.”