LAFAYETTE — The necessity of good health will trump the need for a championship this weekend for the UL-Lafayette softball team.
When the Ragin’ Cajuns clash with Georgia State in a Sun Belt Conference tournament at 2 p.m. Thursday in San Marcos, Texas, their chase for the tournament title will be at a measured pace.
“If you are trying to win the (Women’s College) World Series, you can overstate the relevance of this weekend,” Cajuns coach Michael Lotief said. “We are going to go for it, but we are not going to go for it at any cost. This isn’t the weekend to do that. If you don’t come out of this weekend healthy — especially your pitching staff — you have got zero shot (at a national championship).”
When the Cajuns (37-8) made the trip to Texas, the players and coaches did not know who they would face because a first-round bye left the first opponent undetermined until late Wednesday afternoon. Lotief said the short turnaround is not a detail to cause worry.
“We have played everybody already, so we just had to wait and hear the name,” Lotief said. “We had to game-plan for everyone this week, so it was more work for the coaches. But it’s no different than playing in a regional where you are playing either Team 1 or Team 2. You have to turn around in two hours and do it.”
Georgia State defeated Troy 9-3 on Wednesday to earn the spot opposite the Cajuns for Thursday’s game. The Panthers got a two-run homer from right fielder Megan Litumbe, and they took advantage of five Troy errors in the victory.
The Panthers (37-20) will face a UL-Lafayette team that is nearing triple digits in home runs. The Cajuns enter the tournament with 97 homers. One team in school history, the 2006 squad, has topped that number with 102. Catcher Lexie Elkins’ 27 homers have her three shy of the single-season record of 30, set by Danyele Gomez in 2006.
While Lotief is reluctant to focus on individual records, the 30-home run mark is one that makes him proud of Elkins individually and his team collectively for their attitude toward potential achievements.
“Those kids have always stayed humble,” Lotief said. “And that is hard to do. I know when I was 18, if I would have had 30 home runs ... I would be walking around campus with a T-shirt that said, ‘I’ve got 30 home runs.’ People would know it.”
One known goal for the Cajuns is to keep the pitching staff trio of Jordan Wallace, Christina Hamilton and Alex Stewart on track and healthy for this weekend and regional contests down the road. The staff has 16 shutouts. Wallace is 15-4 with a 2.08 ERA. Stewart is 10-1 with a 1.61 ERA and Hamilton is 10-2 with a 1.45 ERA.
Lotief’s ideal scenario of three consecutive wins would prevent the pitching staff from being overtaxed, but Plan B is also on the table, if needed.
“There will be more struggles along the way,” Lotief said. “There will be a game in a tournament that you are not supposed to lose and then you have to turn around quickly. That is where leadership will show.”
Although the Women’s College World Series is the ultimate goal, the conference tourney does supply its own enticing rewards.
“This is the part of the year you have to be excited about,” Lotief said. “This is why you sacrifice — to get a chance to play for championships and play on that next stage and then the next one.”