UL-Lafayette shows mental toughness _lowres

Advocate Photo by LEE CELANO - University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns Head Coach Michael Lotief talks with pitcher Jordan Wallace after she repeatedly hit batters in the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the third inning in Lafayette Friday, Feb. 6, 2015.

The No. 7 Louisiana-Lafayette softball team dominated this weekend as it hosted Idaho State and Mississippi Valley State for the Mardi Gras Classic, defeating the two squads by a combined score of 49-1 in five games.

Ragin’ Cajuns senior pitcher Jordan Wallace had three appearances in which she totaled 30 strikeouts, two wins and a save, allowing no runs and only one hit in 16 innings. The performance earned her Sun Belt Conference Softball Pitcher of the Week and Tournament MVP honors.

Many teams might find this success worthy of celebration, but for Wallace and the Ragin’ Cajuns, it felt like just another trip the office.

“I was just doing my job,” Wallace said.

Wallace’s attitude perfectly demonstrates the standards to which Ragin’ Cajuns coach Michael Lotief holds his team.

A year following the program’s sixth trip to the College World Series, Lotief said the last thing he wants his team to do is become comfortable.

“You have to stay humble in this game,” Lotief said. “You can never get too high when things go well, and you can never get too low when things go bad. This group of kids have been on both sides of it. We’ve had holes in our stomachs after tough defeats, and we’ve gone on some runs where we’ve played some pretty good softball.”

Lotief said the experience the Ragin’ Cajuns garnered last season has made them more mentally tough in 2015, and he cited Wallace’s success and return to form early this season as a primary example.

After earning the honor of 2012 Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year and winning more games than any other pitcher in the conference her sophomore season, Wallace experienced a bit of a slump in 2014, making just 25 appearances and recording a 4.04 ERA on the year.

But the senior has bounced back in full force, as she has pitched 24 of UL-Lafayette’s 55 innings this season, averaging almost two strikeouts per inning while relinquishing only four hits and no runs.

“We’re not even talking about last year anymore,” Lotief said. “Last year was an aberration.

“Sometimes we expect these kids to be robots, and they’re not. There’s nothing wrong with taking some dips along the way. It’s how you rebound, and it’s how you fight back and it’s whether you get off the ground and respond, and she’s going to do it. She’s doing it right now.”

Wallace’s improvement has not gone unnoticed by her teammates. Junior utility player Shellie Landry said Wallace’s improved confidence is apparent in her performance and even in her appearance.

Landry said this new demeanor has been somewhat contagious, leading to the entire team receiving a boost while Wallace is in the circle.

“She had a lot of confidence (Sunday against Idaho State),” Landry said. “You could just see it in her face. She wasn’t backing down. The confidence from the pitching helps us throughout the game.”

But Wallace and the Ragin’ Cajuns know their season has only just begun, and the road back to the College World Series only will get more difficult. They just want to continue improving and stay in the habit of winning.

“The important thing right now is, we have some momentum and we have some confidence,” Lotief said. “We need to keep it on our side.”