LAFAYETTE — The 13 home runs that Louisiana-Lafayette’s softball team hit in its three-game weekend series at Texas State made coach Michael Lotief smile.
But Lotief wasn’t there to see any of them, and he may not be with his team for a while.
The 13-year Ragin’ Cajuns coach is battling severe throat infections that have worsened in the past four months, and he did not make the trip to San Marcos, Texas, for the weekend series. The Cajuns won two of three games.
“The unknown of what’s going on with Coach Mike is tough on all of us,” said associate head coach T. J. Hubbard, who’s serving as the acting head coach until Lotief returns . “He’s such an emotional leader for us. It’s tough on those players, being 18, 19, 20 years old and in the situation they’re in, trying to keep it all together. He means so much to all of us.”
Lotief battled throat cancer while in college at UL-Lafayette in 1983. The diagnosis at that time was carcinoma of the nasopharynx (upper throat), but two people close to the program said Monday that the current infections are not cancerous.
“This has gone on the last five to six months,” Lotief said in a statement released by the university. “It has gotten worse with infections. Throughout it all, I never missed a day or a practice. Lately the health issues have increased, making it hard for me to swallow and even talk.”
Lotief had a surgical procedure Wednesday to try to create relief, but doctors found his esophagus inflamed and referred him to a specialist. Lotief spent four days in the hospital last week and is expected to see a throat specialist in Houston this week.
Wednesday’s scheduled game at McNeese State was canceled. The schools said officials “determined it to be in the best interest of student-athlete welfare to not travel this week.” The game will not be made up this year.
The Cajuns (27-5, 12-3) will play at home Friday and Saturday, returning to Sun Belt Conference play with a three-game series against Georgia State (23-10, 5-4). That series follows a wild three-game set in San Marcos, where UL-Lafayette lost 14-13 in the opener before winning 15-2 in five innings and 4-0.
“Our kids played over there with a lot of passion and desire,” Hubbard said. “It was difficult for them at times. The way they bounced back in the second and third games showed me how focused they were to win that series.”
Senior pitchers Jordan Wallace and Christina Hamilton struggled in that opening game as TSU got 12 hits and scored 13 earned runs. But sophomore Alex Stewart held the Bobcats to six hits in 10 innings in the final two games — her first Sun Belt starts.
“Alex stepped up emotionally,” Hubbard said. “She was dominant in the circle. And the better she did in the circle, the next inning our hitters hit even harder.”
The Cajuns had 11 homers in the Saturday doubleheader, including a school-record seven in the first game. Much of that power came from junior catcher Lexie Elkins, who had five homers out of her six hits in the series.
That ended a March in which Elkins hit .532 (25-of-47) with 11 homers and 27 RBIs. Her slugging percentage for the month was 1.298 and she struck out only twice in 62 plate appearances.
“If you look at her last year, when we got into Sun Belt play, she seemed to start seeing the ball better,” Hubbard said. “I don’t know if it’s because it’s repeat pitchers, but she’s not missing anything. ... She put on a fireworks show this weekend.”
Hubbard was head coach at North Texas for six seasons before joining the Cajuns staff before the 2014 season, when UL-Lafayette went 49-10-1 and advanced to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2008.
“I wasn’t nervous about the competition,” Hubbard said. “I was more nervous and anxious about some of the procedures (Lotief) was having. It’s tough not knowing, not being able to talk and communicate. But Mike’s already said that his wishes are for all of us to focus on the kids, and that’s what we’re going to do.”