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Softball: Cajuns earn NCAA postseason berth

UL head softball coach Michael Lotief has his Cajuns back in the NCAA Regional, headed to Baton Rouge on Friday.
UL head softball coach Michael Lotief has his Cajuns back in the NCAA Regional, headed to Baton Rouge on Friday. / Courtesy Sun Belt Conference

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, May 14, 2013

There was that hint of a doubt.

Sure, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns softball team felt like they deserved to be included in the 2013 NCAA Regional field.

And sure, each one would likely have predicted that it was going to happen if polled earlier on Sunday afternoon.

But despite a 43-13 record and 22 appearances in the previous 23 seasons, you never really know until you know.

That moment took place early in Sunday’s NCAA Softball Selection Show on ESPNU. In the third of 16 regionals announced, the 2013 Ragin’ Cajuns immediately roared with glee when they saw UL’s name on the TV screen in the Baton Rouge Regional.

UL senior first baseman Matte Haack called the wait “nerve-wracking, because you want to play in the postseason.”

The Cajuns will be opening with Northwestern State at 3 p.m. Friday, while No. 9 overall seed LSU will take on Central Connecticut State at 6 p.m. on Friday.

“You can’t take it for granted,” UL third baseman Natalie Fernandez said. “You can’t just expect to be there every year. It felt good to get in. It’s an honor. Now we just have to get ready.”

For Fernandez especially, from nearby Denham Springs, getting in was great and getting sent to the Baton Rouge Regional was even better.

“When I decided to come here, my friends back home would ask me, ‘Why didn’t you go to LSU?’ and I just told them that I never really wanted to go to LSU ,” Fernandez said. “I love it here. It’s going to be exciting. I’m blessed to be going home.”

UL coach Michael Lotief certainly echoes Fernandez’s thoughts.

“The fact that it’s just an hour away is very important,” Lotief said. “It’s very important to have our fans there. It’s very important that the girls feel confidence and comfortable in that venue.

“It doesn’t really matter where it is (as long as you’re in), but I definitely like the fact that it’s so close to home.”

The Cajuns are coming off a tough road in the Sun Belt Tournament, losing extra-inning games to South Alabama and WKU and beating FAU and WKU.

“That loss (to South Alabama, 1-0 in 8 innings) on Thursday was heart-wrenching,” Lotief said. “Every loss at this time of the year stings. The maturity the girls showed and the way they were just locked in after that loss was very impressive to me.”

In other words, the fact that UL finished third in the regular season and didn’t make the tournament finals is now behind the Cajuns.

“We need to learn from it,” Haack said. “We’re still playing, so we’re not going to look at it as a negative. We’re just going to look at the things that we need to clean up. We’re going to stay positive. There’s a lot of fight left in this team.”

Both Fernandez and Haack pointed to the lessons learned during the adversity already overcome this season paying off for the Cajuns again this weekend in Baton Rouge. There’s also plenty of talent for UL’s foes to deal with.

“One through nine, with the exception of the slappers, we have hitters who can change the game with one swing,” Haack said.