LAFAYETTE — Been there, beat them, done that.
Beneath the clichéd responses about being excited to host a regional and blanket praise of its opponents, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette softball team exuded quiet self-assuredness as it prepared to enter the postseason arena.
“We know that we can do it; we’ve known all season that we could do it,” junior All-America catcher Lexie Elkins said.
That’s the confidence that comes when you follow an appearance in the Women’s College World Series by outscoring opponents by nearly 300 runs as you go 39-9.
The players weren’t putting on a show of bravado, but the experience of advancing through a regional and a super regional tournament to the biggest stage last season provided a script for the team to study and pass on to the younger players.
“I think we definitely have older players who know what this is going to take,” senior pitcher Jordan Wallace said. “I think we can teach the younger players, as well.”
Last season, then-freshman infielder Haley Hayden said she didn’t even understand how the bracket worked. Now, as a sophomore with seven NCAA tournament games under her belt, she understands not only the bracket, but what the team needs to do to advance through it.
“I just saw, ‘OK, we’re going to play them; OK, sounds good.’ I didn’t know how any of it worked,” Hayden said. “This year, I’m more educated on it, but it’s the same thing. We’ve got to go out there, win every single pitch, execute and be at our very best. It’s now or never.”
With that experience and the knowledge that comes with it, the Cajuns like their odds.
“I think we have a really good chance, because we know exactly where we want to be, and we have the confidence to get there,” Wallace said.
It’s also the confidence that comes when you look at your recent history against one of the top teams coming to town for the regional.
Baylor won 38 games this season in a competitive Big 12 Conference, but it couldn’t have been happy when it saw it was heading to Lafayette for the regional round.
The Cajuns played a two-game series against Baylor this season. The first game was canceled because of inclement weather, but UL-Lafayette hung on to win a tight game 3-1 in a doubleheader opener the next day before run-ruling the Bears 12-2 in the nightcap. The Cajuns played Baylor three times last season, winning all three.
“I definitely think (Baylor is) going to be out for blood since they lost twice to us this year,” Wallace said.
Mississippi State is making its second consecutive trip to the Lafayette regional. This time, it’s hoping to get a crack at the host after Texas took a pair of one-run wins to bounce the Bulldogs in the regional tournament last year.
Sometimes, confidence can get chipped at an inopportune time, as may have happened when the Cajuns lost the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship against South Alabama this past weekend.
At this point of the season, there’s no point in dwelling on what might have been though, not unless it comes in the form of something that can propel you forward, like last year’s postseason and the dominant doubleheader against Baylor.
“We definitely have to look forward from this point on,” Hayden said. “We have to learn and grow from what happened this past weekend, we have to get better, but that’s in the past.
“We’re in the postseason now, we’ve got to look forward, get better and see who we’re playing next.”
First up is Weber State.