LAFAYETTE — Although his team plays away from Lamson Park for a second straight weekend, Louisiana-Lafayette softball coach Michael Lotief is intrigued by the Cajuns’ continued improvement.
UL-Lafayette is 5-0 during a current eight-game road trip that ends with a final regular season road series that begins Saturday at 1 p.m. with a doubleheader against Sun Belt Conference opponent Texas-Arlington.
The teams conclude the series with a single game Sunday at 1 p.m. at Allen Saxe Field.
Playing that many consecutive road games that include two SBC series and a doubleheader against No. 14 Baylor, hasn’t unnerved his team, which has seven starters who are either sophomores or freshmen.
Instead, the 17th-rankedCajuns (35-7-1, 13-1) swept last weekend’s conference doubleheader at Troy and then defeated Baylor on Tuesday at Getterman Stadium in Waco, Texas.
The Cajuns have also won 21 of their past 23 and lead the SBC heading into the games with UTA (20-26, 4-10).
Lotief said he sees the road swing as a chance to observe and gauge how the Cajuns handle situations away from Lamson Park, where UL-Lafayette has won all but one conference game.
“I think the most important thing we can take away from these (road games) is that we have an opportunity to see how (we) measure up in this kind of situation and what will it mean for us down the road,” Lotief said.
“One thing I think we have experienced is how do we prepare for this situation, and so far we have done a good job of preparing and we are continuing to show improvement,” Lotief said.
Both of the wins over Baylor required comebacks and ended with a four-inning relief performance by pitcher Victoria Brown, who collected the win in the second game.
Lotief with such a young team, the Cajuns might have had a few bad moments on the road, but the results have been the opposite.
“You might have expected that to happen, but mentally and emotionally, this team has not acted like freshmen or sophomores,” he said. “They have handled the experiences over the past five games very well.
“I think that has been due to a good combination of teammates caring about one another and the chemistry that exists among them.
“Seniors like Natalie (Fernandez) and Shelbi (Redfearn) have really taken care of those young kids. I think a lot of it has to do with those young kids being very competitive. They come from winning backgrounds where they expect to do their best,” Lotief continued.
UTA is just above last-place Troy (19-27-2, 2-11) in the league standings.
Lotief said that may be true, but he doesn’t emphasize opponents’ records.
“I don’t know (UTA’s record), and I don’t want to know,” he said. “When you do that, you’re asking for trouble. I just see this as another opportunity to learn and get better as a team.”
With six conference games remaining, the Cajuns hold a commanding lead over second-place South Alabama (34-10, 11-5) and Western Kentucky (31-17-1, 10-5) which is in third.
The Cajuns also dominate the league’s offensive statistics, leading in team batting average (.300), slugging percentage (.516), on-base percentage (.397), runs (271), RBI (249), home runs (67), total bases (620), walks (181) and steals (121).
Fernandez, a senior second baseman, leads the league in hitting .457, which also ranked her 11th natonally at the start of the week.
The Cajuns have also received good pitching, especially from junior righthander Christina Hamilton (19-1) who has a 1.37 earned run average.
Hamilton is a different pitcher this season, Lotief said, mainly because of several factors.
“I think some of that can be attributed to mechanics, her mindset and her expanded repertoire of pitches,” he said. “I mean she really went to work, and now it’s starting to show up.
“In this game, you can’t just get by with two or three good pitches and she’s developed other pitches. The other teams have film on you and unless you constantly make changes in the pitches that you throw, it’s going to be difficult,” Lotief said.
UTA is expected to start senior pitcher Callie Collins (12-10, 2.71 earned run average) Saturday. Collins has struck out 142 in 155 innings pitched and allowed 49 walks.
The Mavericks’ leading hitter is shortstop Nina Villanueva, (.360), who batted .500 in last weekend’s series with Louisiana-Monroe, when the Mavericks won two of three.