Louisiana-Lafayette softball team staying away from storylines

LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette softball coach Michael Loetif’s breakdown of Kentucky ace Kelsey Nunley will be detailed.

Will it matter at all that the Wildcats sophomore has a windmill motion, hurled more than 1,000 pitches and notched 10 complete games to propel Kentucky to its first Women’s College World Series berth?

Or the possibility that fatigue might rear up when Louisiana-Lafayette steps into the batter’s box at 6 p.m. Thursday?

In a sport where riding an ace is common, might there be a slight advantage to exploit?

“I don’t know anything about her routine, about where she comes from,” Lotief said, “or what’s her favorite ice cream.”

It’s settled. Throw all the storylines or bits of intrigue at Lotief and his roster, but none are keen on becoming characters. Makes sense considering the smart money placed on a potential matchup with UCLA was squandered.

The No. 6 seed Ragin’ Cajuns (49-8-1) get the 14th-seeded Wildcats (48-14), who rallied back from losing their super regional opener to sweep the Bruins on Sunday.

Scrap a meeting of softball bluebloods, and in its place, the rewrite of the script has two programs tangling after finally getting over the hump to reach Oklahoma City.

Kentucky, a woeful program six years ago, completed its rise under coach Rachel Dawson. Yet it took falling short in three consecutive super regionals before a breakthrough.

Over the same span, UL-Lafayette endured a drought from Oklahoma City. The past two seasons, the Cajuns suffered second-day heartbreaks against Arizona State and Michigan in the super regionals. That was until quieting Arizona’s bats in a weekend sweep.

“They’re a lot like us,” Lotief said.

But to say the similarity may add any extra intensity — or a deeper respect — is reading too much into a storyline the Cajuns prefer to avoid.

“It’s just a really cool experience to go through,” senior left fielder Shelbi Redfearn said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re going to go in there and play the same way. We’re excited for this matchup.”

With the Cajuns’ spot locked up, Lotief got to watch Kentucky in real time and said the Wildcats should have had a sweep.

If not for a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning, Kentucky may have nabbed a 4-2 victory in Game 1 instead of a 6-4 loss.

On Sunday, Kentucky breezed, winning by a combined score of 14-4 at Easton Stadium in Los Angeles.

There’s also the fact UCLA, holder of 11 national titles, hasn’t been in Oklahoma City or lifted a trophy since 2010. Until this season, they hadn’t made it out the opening weekend.

Which circles back to Lotief’s point: History can be used to shape any narrative you want. None of it matters now.

“So if people think it’s a better matchup to play Kentucky instead of UCLA,” he said, “they haven’t been following college softball the past four years.”

On paper, though, the Wildcats appear to present a favorable foe.

The Wildcats offense is steady but unspectacular. Kentucky averages just 4.7 runs per game and its .264 batting average is No. 177 nationally. Power? The lineup only slugs .436, which is No. 85 in the nation.

Ahead of the super regional round, not a single hitter in the order ranked in the top 15 for batting, slugging and on-base percentages in the Southeastern Conference. The same goes for hits, RBIs and total bases.

Third baseman Nikki Sagermann qualifies as the lone thumper, hitting .282 with 13 home runs and 49 RBIs. Or maybe junior catcher Griffin Joiner — who’s hitting .308 with 10 homers — might count, too.

Still, it’s not a lineup built in the mold of Arizona, whose 109 home runs hinted at power able to close almost any gap or blow any lead open. Against Louisiana-Lafayette pitcher Christina Hamilton, it hit just .222 and scored just four runs over two days.

Doesn’t matter. So says the Cajuns’ stalwart in the circle.

“They’re going to hit,” Hamilton said. “They’re good players, and they’re going to go out and compete.”

And Kentucky isn’t daunted by close games, either. The Wildcats went 24-6 this season in games decided by less than two runs and in all but seven of them did the winning team put up more than five runs.

Really, that’s all that’s necessary if Nunley, who is 29-9 with a 1.85 ERA, is shutting down offenses.

No doubt, Kentucky has leaned on her, too. Since May 7, she’s thrown a complete game in every start, throwing a mind-boggling 1,230 pitches over 73.1 innings but withstood the workload to put up a 1.14 ERA.

Ask Lotief about what facets help Nunley — from mechanics to assortment of pitches — explain her rubber arm, and he scoffs.

“I know what she throws, and I know how she throws it,” Lotief said. “That’s what we’re concerned about: the spin of the ball and how it comes at us. Who’s throwing it, what their physique is, and what their (jersey) number is don’t matter.”

Besides, Hamilton may have to put UL-Lafayette on her shoulders. Granted, she’s only made eight starts and thrown over 450 fewer pitches over the same span as Nunley, leaving Lotief only one certainty over the next three days.

“I’m going to have to go yank that ball out of her hand,” Lotief said. “If it takes her five games, if it takes seven, she’s going to do whatever it takes.”

Follow Matthew Harris on Twitter: @MHarrisAdvocate.