Cajuns softball: Is star slugger Lexie Elkins’ return imminent? She should be back ‘soon,’ coach Mike Lotief says _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Members of the Ragin' Cajun softball team wait for Lexie Elkins at the plate after her solo home run against South Alabama on Sunday, March 13, 2016, at Lamson Park.

LAFAYETTE — As the Louisiana-Lafayette softball squad prepares for its final road test of the regular season this weekend at Georgia Southern, there is no rush to get the green light for a driving force to return to the lineup.

All-America catcher Lexie Elkins, who has been sidelined for the past few weeks with a left thumb injury, has been taking batting practice as part of her road to recovery. Getting her back in the lineup is becoming a short-term wait.

“I think we will be picking her up soon,” Cajuns coach Mike Lotief said. “I don’t know if it will be this weekend or next.”

Elkins has use of her top hand, but the bottom hand — the left hand for a right-handed batter — is the difference-maker in this case.

“She takes batting practice, and she hit some homers one-handed,” Lotief said. “It’s crazy to watch a kid that is that talented. It’s not up to me. It’s up to her physicians. That is a kid that, once she gets cleared to play, she will be ready to go.”

Despite missing 12 games, Elkins ranks sixth in the nation with 17 homers.

The No. 7 Cajuns (35-6) are 9-3 in Elkins’ absence, with all of the losses coming to No. 1 Florida. Lotief said not having a hitter of Elkins’ caliber could have had a ripple effect on the team, but he gave good marks for the way the Cajuns have answered the challenge.

“I was worried about the effect on the pitching staff,” he said. “But Lexie stays involved, so her personality and competitiveness have remained a part of it. I’m impressed the team has continued to be this productive without its best player.”

Sun Belt summit in sight

The Cajuns are a win away from clinching both a share of the conference championship and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Two more wins means gaining the title outright. Success on that goal would be the 14th time in 16 seasons the Cajuns have scored an SBC title.

“We just want to keep getting better,” Lotief said. “The (university staff) will tell us about any clinching of anything — and we will celebrate and be very happy. But until then, we don’t even think about it.”

Lagniappe

As the Cajuns have made their way through Texas, Florida and Georgia during the past month to face the likes of Baylor, Florida and Georgia State, Lotief has made a point of breaking the trips down into sections. “We used to drive in vans, so the bus is a luxury depending on your perspective,” he said. “Now they have Wi-Fi and movies. Every four or five hours, we are stopping because I have to walk around. I think the kids like the pit stops, because they get to get a snack or run around.” ... Junior leadoff hitter Haley Hayden has reached the 50-hit mark for the third straight season as part of her .372 batting average. She has hit safely in 32 of 41 games and has not gone hitless in consecutive games.