UL-Lafayette softball team’s quest to Women’s College World Series continues against hot Oklahoma _lowres

Advocate photo by Buddy Delahoussaye-- Louisiana-Lafayette's Haley Hayden hit .455 in the NCAA regional from Friday through Sunday at Lamson Park.

LAFAYETTE — Two wins and 20 miles.

If that was the title to a country music song, the Louisiana-Lafayette softball team would likely be ready to put that tune on repeat this week in Norman, Oklahoma.

When the No. 14 seed Cajuns (46-7) enter Marita Hynes Field to face the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners (50-7) in a best-of-three super regional that starts at 8 p.m. Thursday, the goal is to advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City 20 miles from Norman.

Game 2 is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday. If a third game is necessary, it will start at 9 p.m.

To get the two wins to ensure the opportunity to travel 20 more miles, the Cajuns will have to go through a home-standing Sooners team on a 25-game winning streak. A pair of Sooner power sources last season, Shelby Pendley and Lauren Chamberlain (who combined for 47 homers), are no longer part of the equation. But Cajuns coach Mike Lotief said that effect is minimal when facing a program that has reached the super-regional round for seven straight seasons under coach Patty Gasso.

“I wouldn’t get caught up in hyping one name or another,” Lotief said. “It’s a solid lineup one through nine. They put up good numbers, and they have an ace in the circle. So it’s a typical Oklahoma team, maybe without one person getting all the notoriety.”

That pitching ace is sophomore lefty Paige Parker, who is 31-3 with a 1.38 ERA and 235 strikeouts in 202.1 innings. The Sooners back Parker and their other pitchers with a defense that has made 23 errors, the lowest total in the nation. Their team fielding percentage of .984 is even with Florida for the top spot.

The Sooners lineup does not have the sheer home run numbers owned by the Cajuns, who have hit 104 homers compared to Oklahoma’s 61. However, the .358 Sooners team batting average and their top-to-bottom balance is reminiscent of a recent challenge the Cajuns overcame: Texas A&M.

“A&M’s lineup finished as the No. 3 offensive team in the country, so it doesn’t get better than that lineup,” Lotief said. “Oklahoma’s lineup is comparable, but it is a good feel for the kind of lineup that we are going to face throughout this series.”

Infielder Shay Knighten, who is one of three finalists for the Schutt Sports/NFCA Division I Freshman of the Year Award, is hitting .547 in home games for the Sooners. She leads the team with 11 homers.

Regarding the surroundings the Cajuns will face, the Sooners own a 22-2 mark at home. The Cajuns are no strangers to rowdy environments, having faced Oregon at Lamson Park and having tangled with No. 1 Florida on the road in an April series.

The Cajuns scored nine runs in each of their three regional wins over Boston, Texas and Texas A&M. DJ Sanders hit .545 in that regional and Haley Hayden hit .455.

“Of course (the Sooners) are going to be good competition, and the atmosphere will be just as good if not better than the regional,” Sanders said. “Especially because the last game (against Teas A&M) was a difficult one, I think that was a good test and preparation for what’s coming up.”

What’s coming up is the chance to go those extra 20 miles to Oklahoma City. Success would mean the Cajuns would be making their seventh trip to the WCWS.

“Oklahoma is tough to prepare for,” Lotief said. “They have a really good team, and we have a tough task in front of us.”