Cajuns softball draws No. 6 seed in NCAA tournament, could host super regional _lowres

Advocate photo by Lee Celano - UL-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns Head Coach Michael Lotief addresses the crowd after the team defeated the South Alabama Jaguars 4-1 in the Sun Belt Conference Finals at Lamson Park in Lafayette May 10, 2014.

LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette softball program has been one of the nation’s best for a quarter-century, and the Ragin’ Cajuns will make their 24th NCAA tournament appearance in those 25 years.

But for the first time this year, UL-Lafayette will have a chance to host both NCAA regional and super regional rounds, with the Cajuns earning a No. 6 national seed in the 64-team event.

The brackets were unveiled Sunday night, and the top four seeds — Oregon, Alabama, UCLA and Georgia — were announced at the start of the hourlong show. That left the Cajuns waiting at their Lamson Park home, where the team and fans gathered to watch the announcement.

The wait finally ended when the Cajuns (44-8-1) saw their name pop up.

“It’s awesome that we’re going to get to play in front of this home crowd,” said senior outfielder Shelbi Redfearn, whose sixth-inning, three-run homer propelled UL-Lafayette to its 4-1 win over South Alabama in Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference tournament title game. “It helped so much during the conference tournament to have our fans behind us.”

The Cajuns will be hosting the regional round for the 10th time beginning Friday, welcoming Texas, Mississippi State and Texas Southern. Texas (33-21), which beat the Cajuns twice in February during the Louisiana Classics tournament, faces State (38-19) at 3 p.m. Friday, followed by the Cajuns against SWAC champion Texas Southern (31-18) at 6.

Both of those games will be broadcast online on ESPN3.

If UL-Lafayette wins its regional, the Cajuns will host a super regional for the first time since the NCAA began playing the three-tier format in 2005. UL-Lafayette has played in four super regionals since 2008, including the last two, and won the super regional in Houston in 2008 in the most recent of their five Women’s College World Series seasons.

But senior shortstop Natalie Fernandez said the super regional is not the first goal.

“Our focus is all on Texas Southern right now,” said Fernandez, the Sun Belt’s leading hitter at .437. “We can’t focus on the super regional or even our next game in the regional. It’s a huge advantage to be here, and teams that come here know it’s a tough place to play, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves.”

Texas Southern is making its first NCAA tournament appearance. The Lady Tigers beat defending SWAC champion Mississippi Valley State 6-3 Sunday in Decatur, Ala., to win the league title.

“I’m very familiar with them,” Cajuns coach Michael Lotief said. “They’ve been very successful this year, so it’s not going to be easy. And then we’ve got a potential matchup with a team that beat us twice here at home.”

Texas won 10-7 and 7-3 on Feb. 7 and 8 at Lamson Park.

“That was early,” Redfearn said. “We’ve come a long way since then. The good thing is that we know what to expect from them. Whoever’s in front of us, that’s who we’re going to go after.”

UL-Lafayette is matched up with the Tucson regional for the super regional round, with No. 11 seed Arizona (41-13) hosting LSU (35-22), Louisville (36-20) and Boston University (35-19). The winner of the Lafayette regional will face the winner of the Tucson regional for the right to advance to the Women’s College World Series, which begins May 29 in Oklahoma City.

“Getting a number six national seed is phenomenal for our program,” said Lotief, whose team Saturday won its 12th Sun Belt tournament title in the 15-year history of the event. “It’s a testament to the body of work we had. It’s an awesome opportunity; our kids play well in front of their home crowd.

“But we still gotta go out and execute. We’ve got to take care of our regional before we can worry about anything else, and we have a tough regional.”

UL-Lafayette is slated to announce ticket information Monday.