LAFAYETTE — Inside the quiet of Louisiana-Lafayette’s practice facility Saturday, softball coach Michael Lotief’s joy was softly spoken.
Inside Lamson Park, almost 3,000 fans stuck around to revel in their team ending a six-year drought.
Against a hard-slugging Arizona lineup, the No. 6 seed Ragin’ Cajuns dispatched their opponent with ease, jumping to a quick three-run lead and riding another sterling outing from Christina Hamilton to a 7-1 victory that capped a super regional sweep.
Even for a program steeped in its own tradition, Lotief turned to a trio of players — ice packs taped to shoulders and eyes red from happy tears — and uttered the obvious about its sixth trip to the Women’s College World Series.
“That’s crazy,” the coach said. “It’s just crazy.”
UL-Lafayette (49-8-1) ditched any drama against the 11th-seeded Wildcats (44-16) while punching their ticket to Oklahoma City.
After Estela Piñon battled spotty control in Arizona’s 5-3 loss in the series opener Friday night, Wildcats starter Shelly Babcock saw her own outing go sideways quickly.
With two outs in the first inning Saturday, she issued a free pass to Lexie Elkins and then watched Samantha Walsh knock a double into the left-field corner to put two runners in scoring position.
Another walk to Shellie Landry loaded the bases, and Babcock couldn’t escape unscathed. Shelbi Redfearn poked an opposite-field single to right to make it a 2-0 lead, and Kelsey Vincent brought in Landry by ripping a sharp grounder past a kneeling Lauren Young at third base to make it 3-0.
“It was huge getting those runs early, just so Christina could go in and pitch and know she had a couple runs on the board,” Redfearn said. “We needed that momentum to get us going.”
A night after handcuffing the Wildcats, Hamilton (29-2) again quieted an order that entered with a nation-leading 107 home runs and averaged over 7.7 runs per game.
Instead of pounding the strike zone, she changed speeds and let her defense work behind her as she struck out two and scattered five hits during her complete game.
“You start feeling the rhythm,” Lotief said. “She was able to command a lot of pitches today. She was able to work ahead, change speeds and move vertically and move horizontally.”
The lone mistake: a ball up in the zone that Wildcats right fielder Katiyana Mauga cracked over the wall in left to cut the lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the second. It was an outlier during a series in which the Wildcats hit just .222 and had three extra-base hits.
“We prepared for their weak spots this past week,” Hamilton said. “I went out there and trusted my coaches to call the pitches that needed to be called and trusted my defense. That’s all you really can do.”
The Cajuns order supplied her with ample insurance.
Elkins, who was 2-of-3 and scored three times, crushed two solo home runs, the second nearly clearing the bleachers in left to cap the scoring in the sixth.
In between, Babock (6-1), who went six innings and allowed nine hits, let Hayden mash an RBI double into the left-field gap for a 5-1 lead in the top of the fourth. An inning later, the hurler got into more two-out trouble by allowing a Redfearn single to left, followed by a walk. Sara Corbello knocked a single back up the middle to stretch the lead to 6-1.
“We really felt like Babcock had an opportunity with her offspeed pitch to keep them off balance,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said. “We needed to try to hit the outside part of the plate and make them chase.”
Even with Hamilton calmly mowing through the order, the Wildcats still showed some pop.
“They hit some balls on the dot — and a lot of them right at us,” Lotief said. “If you’re just going to sit there and gut it out against those hitters, they’re going to make you pay.”
A sliver of the Cajuns roster has watched super regional series go to tatters the past two years. Last season, a misplayed ball in foul territory set up a walk-off home run in a super regional-opening loss at Michigan. A day later, the Cajuns had a go-ahead double in the fifth inning of a decisive third game send them home from Ann Arbor.
And in 2012, a sterling Game 1 victory at Arizona State ended with a Saturday sweep by combined score of 18-3.
“We’re living in this moment,” Hamilton said. “We don’t really worry about things that have happened in the past. We learn from it, and we don’t want to harp on it.”
Hamilton made sure no comeback brewed or any lead wilted. And the bats helped exorcise the ghosts — if any existed at all.
“The teams from the past that have gone through those experiences, those kids are here today,” Lotief said. “This team does what they did today because of those kids. There’s no demons in this program.”
Lotief was asked about preparations for a WCWS opener Thursday against Kentucky or UCLA. He would have none of it.
No, he simply planned to water the field and take part in a secret celebration with his son Nick. For a night, planning can wait.
“I’m not even worried about this week,” he said. “You better savor this.”
Follow Matthew Harris on Twitter: @MHarrisAdvocate.