Ragin’ Cajuns Gearing Up For Gators In Gainesville [VIDEO]
Cajun Nation marked the weekend of April 16th on their calendars as soon as the softball schedule came out. Gators and Cajuns, a top five matchup. Two College World Series teams duking it out in the regular season, out of conference. It's a sweet treat for the softball world, and the wait is over.
The time is now. Florida is waiting in their swamp, but the Ragin' Cajuns brought their waders.
Sophomore Shortstop DJ Sanders, who is playing at an All-American level, isn't letting the magnitude of the series spin it out of control before the games even start.
"It's always nice to face top five competition, but it's still just any other opponent that we're playing," Sanders said, sounding just like a coach. "We prepare the same way."
How can that be true? Would you be able to wake up on your biggest week of the work year and treat it like any other series of days? The obvious answer is no. Softball isn't a game that rewards the hasty or overzealous though. Plus, there's no reason for the Ragin' Cajuns to shake up their routine. It's working like a charm.
Both teams come in with only three losses on the year. Something's got to give, and both teams mirror each other's strengths. Pitching? Check. Grueling lineups? Yep. Atmosphere, drama, pressure, all that passes the test too. For the Ragin' Cajuns, these are the most important three games of the regular season.
It's going to be hard to mentally prepare for what's waiting in Gainesville. Louisiana Associate Head Coach Chris Malveaux is going to use their trip to Waco as a reference point.
"We went to Baylor a couple weeks ago and played a very athletic team with good pitching," Malveaux said. "You're going to see a lot of similarities."
Heather Stearns and a talented Baylor pitching staff held the Cajun bats down, and the Bears ended up splitting the midweek double-header. There will be no splitting the series this weekend, and Florida's pitchers are on another level.
The Gators' team ERA is 0.85, which is the best in the country by a decent margin. For reference, the Ragin' Cajuns are 4th in the country in team ERA, and they're sitting at 1.52 (almost twice as high as Florida's)...Want more numbers? Opponents are only hitting .158 against the entire staff, and they have three different arms (Aleshia Ocasio, Delanie Gourley, Kelly Barnhill) that have 80+ innings under their belt this season.
Pitching headlines the act for Florida, but don't sleep on the bats either. Michael Lotief is making sure his players are wide awake.
"They can hit, and they can run rule you right off the bat," Lotief pointed out.
Florida has firepower, but it's nothing like what the Cajuns bring to the plate. Even without Lexie Elkins, Lotief's team continues to club the ball at an unbelievable rate. They're burying opponents with the long ball, but can they rely on that against a wicked Gator pitching staff?
The reality of Florida's pitchers keeping the ball in the yard is concerning, but Coach Lotief is trying to stay optimistic.
When asked if he is expecting to have to beat Florida without the help of the long ball, Lotief smiled and said, "I hope not. I would hit a lot of home runs. Last time we met, that's how we beat them."
It's been a while since the teams faced off, but they're going to get familiar over the next few years. This series is really just the beginning of something the softball world should enjoy. After the Ragin' Cajuns make the trip to Gainesville, Florida will pay it back with a trip to Lafayette. Hopefully, that cycle will continue.
"It's a series that's going to go on and on and on and on, and that's a good thing," Lotief said.
It's nice to think about the future, but this weekend is all that matters right now. Both of these teams could very likely meet again in the postseason, and the outcome of the series would absolutely affect the regionals and supers, in terms of rankings. There's a ton riding on three games, but the Cajuns had time to prepare for this.
Waiting is often the hardest part. All that's left now is to cross off those final days on the calendar and dig in on gameday.
Watch Ragin' Cajuns Softball's full press conference video below. Associate Head Coach Chris Malveaux starts off, then he hands off to Head Coach Michael Lotief.