Ragin’ Cajuns softball team welcomes No. 14 Baylor _lowres

Advocate file photo by LEE CELANO -- UL-Lafayette's Shellie Landry is congratulated by teammates after hitting a three-run home run against Hofstra on Feb. 21. The No. 10 Ragin' Cajuns host No. 14 Baylor this weekend.

LAFAYETTE — The UL-Lafayette softball team will play its final home series of the regular season this weekend, and the opponent is no pushover.

No. 14 Baylor (28-7) visits Lamson Park to take on the No. 10 Ragin’ Cajuns (30-5) in a matchup of two programs coming off Women’s College World Series appearances a year ago. With head coach Michael Lotief still out because of a throat infection, associate head coach T.J. Hubbard said the Cajuns’ preparation over the past three weekends is a credit to not only the players and their focus, but a credit to Lotief.

“Those kids are tough,” Hubbard said. “They’re gritty, and the way they’ve been playing shows what coach Mike has instilled in them and shows how well he has this program set up. It’s evident seeing the last two weekends the way they’ve played without their head coach.”

The Cajuns have gone 5-1 in Lotief’s absence, including a sweep of Georgia State last weekend — all by mercy rule.

With the top of the lineup playing so well, Hubbard said the biggest challenge is to get the bottom of the lineup to perform — especially against the competition on the Cajuns’ remaining schedule, beginning with Baylor this weekend.

The Cajuns face hapless Appalachian State next week, but they’ll follow that trip with a visit to Oregon for three games April 24-25.

“When you’re going to face the teams we have left on this schedule, you’re going to get into situations where they pitch around a Lexie Elkins or a Shellie Landry,” Hubbard said. “You’re dependent on 6-8 hitters to spark the offense. You may only get one or two opportunities to get the bottom half of the lineup on base.

“We need to keep pushing those kids to get there. I feel like D.J. (Sanders) and Aleah (Craighton) are going to have to continue to turn the lineup over.”

Sanders, a true freshman who came into the program amid a lot of hype, got her first career home run against Georgia State. Hubbard said home runs might not be a regular occurrence for Sanders, but he does see her being able to hit them out from time to time.

“She has the ability,” Hubbard said. “I don’t think it would be far-fetched to see her have more home runs. Right now, we are just looking for her to be more consistent and get on base more. (The homer) certainly was a bonus. That kid is special and will certainly be someone to keep an eye on.”

Hubbard said Baylor will provide a tough test, but the Bears present a slightly different look than they did last season. They’ll be without veteran pitcher Whitney Canion, who finally graduated after six years at Baylor.

“They’re a lot like they were last year, but they lost Whitney Canion in the circle,” Hubbard said. “Thank goodness she’s gone — but their No. 1, Heather Stearns, is more than capable. She’s a tough kid to beat, and they’re on a roll right now.”

Hubbard said being able to schedule Baylor at this point is invaluable. He said as familiar as he is with Baylor’s roster, the Bears will be as familiar with the Cajuns.

“Those (Baylor) kids know who Lexie Elkins is,” Hubbard said. “They know who Haley Hayden and Shellie Landry are. They may try to get by those kids, but then they have to get through Samantha Walsh and Kelsey Vincent. Those kids are good; it’s a tough one through five for sure.”