UL Softball Begins Postseason Play From Unfamiliar Yet Earned Position
A national seed. It’s a distinction that the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns softball team never received when beginning an NCAA Softball Championship Tournament. Five times, though, they’ve shown that they didn’t need it to get to the Women’s College World Series, and that’s not counting numerous other times they made it to the Super Regional Round, the final step before getting to the WCWS.
But when you’re considered a “mid-major,” and year after year you garner impressive win-loss records, and you beat playoff softball programs time after time, you want to get recognized for your efforts.
That’s what happened last Sunday when the Cajuns were named the #6-overall national seed. Head Softball Coach Michael Lotief said “I got goosebumps” when the brackets were released and it showed his team in that position.
"The labor of all those years has come to fruition," Coach Lotief told UL Softball play-by-play announcer Steve Peloquin this week on “The Ragin’ Cajuns Softball Coaches Show,” which airs on ESPN 1420 AM Monday nights from 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
"As the system has been modified and adjusted, this team gets to reap the benefits," Coach Lotief said, referring to how the RPI has changed over the last few years, something his program has been instrumental in.
The Cajuns had to play teams in the Sun Belt Conference with bad RPI’s, which in turn was always a risk for bringing down their RPI, whether the Cajuns won or lost against them. That being said, the Cajuns scheduled some of the top teams in the country and got 12 wins over teams currently in the postseason tournament, including Baylor, Michigan, fellow SBC member South Alabama and defending national champion Oklahoma – twice. Throw in a 44-8-1 overall record and both of the Sun Belt Conference regular season and tournament championships, and this team, which didn’t come in with the highest of expectations, definitely earned their lofty position in the postseason tournament.
"I keep saying it. These kids are phenomenal," professed Lotief. "The players never panic...The coach gets nervous.”
Of course, if you’ve been to any of the team’s softball games this year, you saw that on display time after time, win after win, as the Cajuns won games in comeback fashion numerous times, as well as times when the momentum appeared to be completely against them.
And the fans at Lamson Park were instrumental in many of those wins, “special people” that Coach Lotief is very thankful to have in his team’s corner. “The Cajun people really love and care about these athletes. This community always has those kids' backs."
Now, back to that “mid-major” label. Coach Lotief says the UL softball team is fighting for all the “mid-majors.”
"I refuse to be labeled, and I refuse for my kids to be labeled,” said Coach Lotief. “They want to ordain them [larger universities from the power conferences] just because they're bigger and badder. More money, more resources. The labeling stuff rubs me the wrong way."
Coach Lotief and his Ragin’ Cajuns softball team will certainly have a chance to knock out one, if not two, of those teams from power conferences. Texas (Big XII) and Mississippi State (SEC) are the #2 and #3 seeds, respectively, in the Lafayette NCAA Softball Regional at Lamson Park. But first, the Cajuns must not overlook the #4 seed Texas Southern, the SWAC Tournament Champions.
"We don't walk in there entitled,” said Coach Lotief. “We're going to have to play our best softball if we want to advance."
Coach Lotief is confident in his team and its chances of going on another great postseason run and perhaps accomplishing another first for the UL softball program.
"I see a scenario where this team can run the table and be national champions," said Coach Lotief.
The quest for that first national championship begins Friday night. First pitch against Texas Southern is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. on ESPN 1420 AM, live from Lamson Park, a setting that will serve as the backdrop for another special moment in this program’s accomplished history.
"I know I'm on the backside of life, backside of coaching,” said Coach Lotief. “I know these moments are precious."