Mike Lotief says there’s no need for UL-Lafayette to panic _lowres

Associated Press photo by ALONZO ADAMS -- Kentucky center fielder Sylver Samuel beats the tag of Louisiana-Lafayette second baseman Natalie Fernandez during the fifth inning.

OKLAHOMA CITY — The last time Louisiana-Lafayette’s bats went dormant, it was a dreary, rainy day.

And it was almost three months ago.

Until Kentucky’s Kelsey Nunley shut down one of the nation’s most potent lineups in a 4-1 victory to open the Women’s College World Series, the Ragin’ Cajuns hadn’t been held to less than two hits all season.

James Madison, the unlikeliest of suspects, managed to give up just two hits and shut out UL-Lafayette in handing them a 3-0 loss Feb. 21 at the NFCA Leadoff Classic.

Since then, coach Mike Lotief’s offense has been the essence of reliability.

Aside from a 4-2 loss to South Alabama in extra innings at the Sun Belt tournament, UL-Lafayette has posted at least three runs in every outing this season.

Lotief said the Cajuns, who averaged 6.55 runs per game and hit 88 home runs, were simply due for an off night after a six-week span in which production hadn’t run into any hiccups.

“I watch a lot of softball,” Lotief said. “Sometimes, you’re just not going to have it. There’s no reason to go soul-searching. These kids know how to hit.”

Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson said Nunley ratcheted up her velocity and gave her pitches more bite Thursday night.

Cajuns third baseman Samantha Walsh said the assortment of pitches also left hitters less selective and prone to chasing.

“We didn’t do enough a good enough job sitting on pitches,” Walsh said. “I was guessing when she would try to throw off-speed, and she kept me off balance.”

A welcome break

UL-Lafayette has a day off Friday to figure out how to get back on track.

The Cajuns face the Alabama-Oklahoma loser at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

A win would have meant playing Friday, but Lotief’s players didn’t really care when they take the field next to try to navigate their way through the losers bracket.

“Of course we want to play,” catcher Lexie Elkins said. “We need to keep in mind it’s a quick turnaround either way. Whether it would be next weekend or we would have played 30 minutes from now. We just need to get our mindsets right and put that behind us and win the next pitch.”

Lotief noted UL-Lafayette has already played one series against the Sooners, which the Cajuns won in March at Lamson Park.

“There are no ‘gimmes’ at this point,” Lotief said. “Right now, it’s all about us and how we recover, where our mindset is, and are we going to show up and fight.”

Nunley on the money

The only potential spot to nitpick in Nunley’s stat line might be the five walks she issued.

Lawson, though, was content.

Watching Elkins send a solo shot arcing over the wall in the bottom of the first inning was enough to convince her caution should prevail.

“We weren’t going to pitch to their catcher again,” Lawson said.

The threats up and down the rest of the order only added weight to her logic.

“They’re not just a power-hitting team,” Lawson said. “They do a great job working the pitcher, so I expected there would be some walks.”

Grand stage

In the middle of the third inning, Kentucky shortstop Constance Stokes made an observation.

“Look at all the people,” she told Lawson.

“Wow, look at the ball,” Lawson replied.

The moment summed up a night in which the Wildcats said the sport’s biggest stage did little to induce anxiety. This is Kentucky’s first trip to Oklahoma City.

“It’s more just excitement,” first baseball Lauren Cumbess said. “In the SEC, we play on a big stage all the time. Just being out there is really cool for us.”

Follow Matthew Harris on Twitter: @MHarrisAdvocate.