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<span style='font-size:14pt;line-height:100%'>UL vs. Arizona - Titanic softball battle</span>
Bruce Brown
bbrown@theadvertiser.com

It doesn't get much bigger than this - not in the regular season, anyway.

This weekend's three-game series between Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns and the Arizona Wildcats is certain to attract big crowds to Ragin' Cajun Softball Park.

Crowds might even exceed the record 1,729 who showed up to see UL and LSU battle in 2001, and they're going to see two of the best pitchers in the game in action.

Arizona's Alicia Hollowell is 15-1 this year with a 0.37 earned run average, along with 220 strikeouts in 114 innings of work. The Wildcats' All-American is the school's leader in career strikeouts (1,122) and is No. 6 in victories (96).

Ragin' Cajun All-American Brooke Mitchell (17-4, 0.74 ERA, 199 K's) is UL's all-time leader in victories (108) and strikeouts (1,166).

Mitchell ranks No. 13 and Hollowell is tied for 20th in NCAA Division I strikeouts, while Mitchell is tied for 17th in career wins.

Clearly, hits and runs will be at a premium this weekend.

There will be no shortage of drama, though.

"Obviously," said UL co-head coach Stefni Lotief, "it says a lot for our program and our community, and it's a huge compliment for Arizona to make a road trip here. I give credit to the University, the community and these players for making it happen."

The springboard for the series was the Cajuns' 5-0 victory over Arizona in last year's NCAA Tournament, knocking the Wildcats out of their own regional and a chance at the Women's College World Series.

Arizona coach Mike Candrea (1,006-193 in his 20th year) called UL's Michael Lotief soon after the campaign to arrange a rare out-of-state matchup for 2005.

"When we heard that Coach Candrea had called, we were excited," said the Cajuns' Danyele Gomez, who delivered a pair of home runs against Hollowell in last year's regional victory. "We were still on a high from beating them last year. It's good to be home to play them, because our fans always support us here."

"I think Mike Candrea respects this program enough to know that the series will come down to fighting every pitch," Stefni Lotief said. "This weekend will prepare him for the Pac 10 and the rest of his season, and will allow us to do the same for our team.

"Any time you can see quality competition like this in the middle of the season, it helps you."

Candrea, the U.S. Olympic softball coach, saw his team suffer its first two losses of the campaign at last week's Kia Klassic, falling to Texas and Michigan to drop to 24-2 and slip to No. 2 in both national polls behind Michigan.

"I know they lost to Michigan, but I still think of Arizona as the No. 1 team in the country," Lotief said.

"They're obviously well coached and they obviously get the top recruits in the country. They have Hollowell, they've got good team speed and they have all the weapons."

The Cajuns are No. 11 in the latest NFCA Top 25 and No. 13 in the ESPN.com USA Softball poll, sliding out of the Top 10 after their own rough weekend at the Kia.

"It's a very strong field out there," Lotief said of the Kia. "There are not many opportunities to catch your breath. But at no time did I see us stop fighting.

"The Kia gave us more information about ourselves."

The Cajuns are 112-12 (.903) at home under the Lotiefs since 2001, and if they score first the news is usually good. UL is 192-9 (.955) since 2001 when scoring first, including 15-0 this year.

Visiting teams have hit just .120 against the Cajuns this season, but none of them have been the caliber of Arizona. In fact, if either team chalks up many runs in the series, it will be a surprise.

"This will be a format similar to a Super Regional, or to the way the Pac 10 plays its conference weekend series," Lotief said. "It wouldn't surprise me if both Brooke and Alicia see a lot of action. I think Hollowell will get the ball."

Softball fans are in for a treat.

Originally published March 25, 2005
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