LAFAYETTE — After the University of Louisiana at Lafayette softball team wrapped up a regular-season Sun Belt Conference title with a convincing three-game road sweep of UL-Monroe, coach Mike Lotief allowed his players some time to celebrate on the bus home.
But it didn’t last long.
“In this sport, you get to spend about 30 minutes enjoying it,” Lotief said. “We enjoyed it on the bus; then after, those kids opened up their books and they started studying for finals.”
The league title was just the first in several stepping stones at this stage of the season for the Cajuns. The next are final exams, which the girls will wrap up before they travel west for the SBC tournament this week in San Marcos, Texas.
The goal is to keep going from there.
“This is the part of the year that you have to be excited about,” Lotief said. “This is why you do what you do, this is why you sacrifice what you sacrifice; to play for championships. To get the opportunity to compete on the next stage, then the next one, then the next one. It’s an exciting time.”
It’s also exciting that they’re armed with the knowledge that a disappointing series against Oregon didn’t send the Cajuns spiraling into a funk.
A week after scoring just three runs while being swept by the Ducks, the Cajuns bats erupted for 38 runs and 46 hits in the three-game set against the Warhawks, including 14 home runs.
They also played error free baseball and gave up just eight runs in the series.
“The way they played this weekend was inspiring,” Lotief said. “It was every phase, the pitchers, the defense, the hitting, it was consistent one-through-nine. For one special weekend, it’s the way you want to play softball.”
The Cajuns finished the regular season 37-8 overall, and they had four more conference wins than the next closest team in the league standings.
“They earned it and they deserved it, and it’s so representative of who they are and how they’ve gone about their business day-by-day,” Lotief said. “These are kids who do the right thing every day. And now for them to get the title of champion, it’s so appropriate.”
By winning the league’s regular season title, the Cajuns were one of two teams to earn a bye for the first day of the conference tournament, which is the single-elimination portion of the tournament.
The Cajuns will start tournament play at 2 p.m. Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s game between Troy and the winner of the Georgia State and Georgia Southern game.
The winner of the tournament earns an automatic entry into the NCAA tournament. While the Cajuns shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they make it into the big tournament, they’re playing to win this week — with a caveat.
“We’re going for it this weekend, but we’re not going to go for it at any cost,” Lotief said. “You have to weigh it all out. We’re going for it, but we’re not going to go for it at all costs — this ain’t the weekend to do that.
“If you don’t come out of this weekend healthy, especially your pitchers, you’ve got no shot. Zero.”
CRAIGHTON NAMED PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Redshirt freshman outfielder Aleah Craighton was named both the Louisiana Sportswriters Association and Sun Belt Player of the Week for her efforts in the Cajuns sweep of UL-Monroe.
Craighton hit four homers in the series, driving in nine of the 38 runs the Cajuns scored, and batted .700.