WATCH: Lotief Keeping Ragin’ Cajuns Humble After Beating Alabama
Louisiana brought one of the top five teams in the country into Lafayette, and they sent them back home with a pair of losses. Not many teams will do that to Alabama this year.
Not only did the Ragin' Cajuns beat Alabama in a series, their two wins were dominant performances. They mercy ruled the Crimson Tide in game two and Alyssa Denham shut them out in the final game of the series. Both achievements are enough to get any team strutting, but Head Coach Mike Lotief isn't letting his team get too high or low with any result this season.
After the Ragin' Cajuns dropped a pair of games to Southern Miss, Lotief didn't allow them to sulk. After beating Alabama, he's not going to let the wins go to their heads either.
"The game will always humble you. The game gives you direction. Congratulations to our team because they didn't get too low [after Southern Miss]. It wasn't about doom and gloom, and hopefully, this week it won't be about patting ourselves on the back," Lotief said sagely.
While Lotief doesn't want to overreact, obviously there were still a lot of things to be proud of from the series win over Alabama.
Denham's performance in the circle was incredible for a freshman, and it earned her national recognition. She shut out one of the best teams in the country and approached the game mentally like a player with many more seasons under her belt.
It appears Lotief found his second pitcher to compliment Alex Stewart, and he thinks she has it in her makeup to handle the big stage.
"She was attacking...she was moving the ball, she was changing speeds," Lotief explained. "She has something in her DNA, something in her personality, in her mindset, that makes her embrace those moments."
In softball, the mental portion of the game is such a large factor. Players reflect their coaches, and Lotief's ability to handle the brain game makes his teams dangerous year in and year out.
For Denham and the rest of Ragin' Cajuns Softball, the season is already a grind only a few weeks into the season. Louisiana will play tons of games in a short span of time, and Lotief knows the challenges of playing that many games in a tiny window.
"Being consistent. Bringing your focus and your passion and your fight every pitch," Lotief said.
With the Mardi Gras Invitational starting on Thursday and rolling into the weekend, Lotief is expecting every team to give the Ragin' Cajuns their best shot.
The target is firmly placed on Louisiana's back, and Drake, Bowling Green, Bradley, Dartmouth and Mississippi Valley and Maryland are all trying to take them out.
"The mentality out there is going to be six against one," Lotief warned the fans and players.
Some people would interpret the situation the Cajuns face as pressure. Winning programs don't look at it as pressure though. They see it as a sign or respect.
It might be a six against one situation on the field, but Louisiana will have the best fans in the country backing them up at Lamson Park. Lotief always makes sure to thank the fans for their constant support, and he didn't miss that opportunity heading into the Mardi Gras Invitational.
All the home games to start the season give the Cajuns an advantage. Not many teams get to play at home for an entire month straight, but Lotief thinks the fans earned this.
"The early season tournaments, to me, are a reward for our fans," Lotief pointed out. He explained it simply, "It makes so much more sense when you have 2,500 people here, great weather and the number one park in the country to do it here."
The environment at Lamson Park is perfect for tournament play, and it's the reason teams continue to book a trip to Lafayette early in their schedules. If you want a taste of a postseason atmosphere, you come to Lamson Park.
All the tournament games at the beginning of the season help the Ragin' Cajuns work out a lot of early issues and find answers to a lot of questions. One of the things Lotief learned about his team already is they find ways to win games late.
The Ragin' Cajuns already have a couple walk-off victories, and so many of their runs have been scored late in the game. It's an encouraging sign of their ability to come through in the clutch, but Lotief sees it simply.
"Right now, the runs that we scored late, I think our hitters have done a good job of dissecting the opposing pitcher," Lotief said, adding that there's a science to it.
Even more encouraging than the late scoring is the fact that new faces are already providing a punch. Beth Ashley and Daniella Chavez both have walk-offs under their belts less than a month into the season, and they're proving they have the capability to be massive contributors in the middle of the lineup.
Lotief talked about Ashley and Chavez with a huge smile painted across his face.
"Big strong kids that like to take a hack," Lotief joked, saying they love to send balls into the trees.
Going into the season, fans wondered how Lotief would replace players like Lexie Elkins, Shellie Landry and Kelsey Vincent. Ashley and Chavez, along with Denham in the circle, are reminding everyone to trust the process.
Lotief also said his team will continue to focus on developing. Summer Ellyson will get more time in the circle in the Mardi Gras Invitational, Lotief will continue to move players into the lineup and a lot of players will get an opportunity to mature.
Softball season is one of the sweetest times of the year to be a Ragin' Cajun. If the team continues to grow, the sweetness could spread all the way into June.