In a top-10 clash, Cajuns softball splits doubleheader with Oregon _lowres

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK -- Louisiana-Lafayette's D.J. Sanders connects for a single during a game against Oregon on Feb. 19 at Lamson Park.

LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette softball coach Mike Lotief knew D.J. Sanders had a power stroke long before this weekend. He thought she might’ve just been waiting for the right time to show it off.

How about during a homecoming?

Sanders, a Mississippi native, blasted four home runs last weekend against Southern Miss on her way to Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week honors.

“She said, ‘It’s good to be back in Mississippi,’ ” Lotief said. “She had a lot of family there, a lot of friends there. I think she was just waiting to show it off for the right moment. But she has shown the power since the fall.”

It wasn’t just Sanders’ power on display last weekend. She finished the three-game sweep by reaching base in eight of her 11 plate appearances, and she delivered when the team needed it, hitting a two-run, go-ahead shot in the fourth inning of the tight series finale, then putting the team back ahead with a bases-loaded walk.

But it was the power that turned heads. As a freshman last season, her greatest value to the team was her glove. She committed just eight errors, a league low for shortstops.

Her bat was a step behind in development. It wasn’t like she had a bad year at the plate — she hit .290 with four homers and 27 RBIs — but it was nothing like what she’s done in Year 2.

Heading into Wednesday’s 6 p.m. home game against Longwood, Sanders’ seven home runs are tied for second in the Sun Belt Conference, and her .388 batting average ranks in the top 10.

That’s not a surprise to senior first baseman Kelsey Vincent, who saw the work Sanders put in this offseason.

“It shows that she comes to practice every day and puts in all the work and effort,” Vincent said. “When you put that in every single day, it’s going to show off in the games. I’m glad her preparation is paying off for her.”

It’s preparation, and it’s also confidence. Lotief said he sees the latter part starting to come around.

“It takes its time to happen when it wants to happen,” Lotief said. “But now that she’s felt it, she gets it in her mind and she becomes very confident that, ‘That’s who I am, that’s what I can do. Been there, done that.’

“The sky’s the limit for that kid. I think everybody has seen that since she walked onto this campus. She has the ability to be as good as it gets — defensively, offensively, leadership-wise, in the class room. What an incredible kid to be around and a fierce competitor.”

Facility update

Stefni Lotief, director of development for the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Foundation and wife of Mike Lotief, said the team’s new indoor hitting facility is about halfway completed.

“We are in the middle of the building of the new hitting facility, which will include eight hitting bays and some (turfed) infield area,” Stefni Lotief said. “They have the walls up and the roof is going on, then comes the lighting and the conduit. Very super satisfied to see this going up.”

Stefni Lotief said there was no official expected completion date, but they hope to have it done by April.