Experienced Lady Gators taking same approach

Peter Silas Pasqua
St. Amant senior Bridget Buquoi returns after earning all-district last season batting .467 with 37 RBIs.

ST. AMANT - After a run of five-straight state titles from 2002-06, St. Amant goes into the second consecutive season without one title before its name - defending Class 5A state champions.

The Lady Gators fell one game short of their goal every year, which is to reach the state championship game, losing to Pineville, 1-0, in the Class 5A semifinals and finishing the regular season with a 29-7-1 record after winning the District 6-5A championship with a 9-1 mark.

“Our goal every year is to play the very last game of the year, St. Amant head coach Scott Nielson said. “Anything less than that is a disappointment but we don’t gauge the season as a success or failure based on whether or not we make it to the state championship. We look at where we started the year and where we ended up. The whole thing is a journey, not a destination. A district championship is like taking a plane flight to Hawaii and the highlight of the trip is eating at the airport in Dallas. The goal is to have a chance to play for a trophy.”

Nielson believes this year’s St. Amant squad has more depth than last year, which had no seniors.

“Last year, we were probably not quite as deep as we have been before but I think we had a team that could have won it but I guess it just wasn’t in the cards,” Nielson said. “We had a real strong freshmen class this year with kids that have played a lot of tournament ball at a competitive level. Any time you have competition from within the team, that makes everybody work a little bit harder. I think last year we got somewhat complacent. This year it is a totally different situation. We have a lot of depth on the mound. We have depth in both the middle infield and corners. We are deep at catcher and in the outfield and we have bats and speed off the bench. We have five or six freshmen who should be able to contribute in some shape, form or fashion this year.”

“Our biggest strength is experience. We only have four kids on this team that were on it the last time we won a state championship but we have a lot of depth and leadership and right now we are really not weak in any facet of the game. I like the way our team stacks up on paper and if we come together mentally and play like we are capable it can be a pretty good season for us.”

PITCHING STAFF - Last season, St. Amant’s pitching staff started and ended with District 6-5A MVP Amie Parent. Parent returns to the circle for the Lady Gators for her junior season after pitching all but seven innings for St. Amant throughout the season. The right-hander compiled a 28-7-1 record with a 1.82 ERA and 215 strikeouts.

“Amie changes speed and mixes the ball up,” Nielson said. “She is the Greg Maddux of high school softball. She has five different pitches. People see her warming up and think they are going to pound her but it hasn’t happened. She quadrupled her strikeouts from her freshmen and sophomore years. She just wins softball games.”

St. Amant also welcomes back senior right-hander Amanda Martin after she sat out last season.

“We have other people who are very capable pitchers,” Nielson said. “Amanda Martin throws the ball really hard. Her style is very contrasting to what Amie does. We are glad to have her back. She adds depth to our pitching. She throws hard and is probably one of the best athletes on the team.”

Junior right hander Melanie Parker, sophomore right-hander Chelsea Robertson and freshmen left hander Emily Guillory add depth to the staff.

LINEUP - St. Amant has been known for hitting home runs throughout their state championship runs setting national high school records along the way and while that may not be this year’s team trademark, the potential for the long ball will definitely be there.

“We try to have quality at bats,” Nielson said. “If the team we are playing is giving up the short game, we are going to bunt. If they are throwing it to where we are going to get some long ball action, we are going to play gorilla ball. We are going to take what the other team gives us and play sound, fundamental softball. We will bunt and run, steal bases and do different things. We don’t live and die by the long ball but over the years it has been apart of our game. We don’t count on it ever. We just let the chips fall as they may.”

The Lady Gators return everyone in the field. Headlining the list are all-district selections in senior catcher Emily Douglas, senior second baseman Bridget Buquoi, junior shortstop Kandace Boudreaux, junior centerfielder Kelly Luquette and junior left fielder Melanie Parker. Buquoi batted .467 last season registering 37 RBIs, while Boudreaux hit .438 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs, Douglas batted .427 with 21 RBIs, Luquette hit .330 with 23 stolen bases and Parker batted .302 with 12 home runs and 31 RBIs.

“We are going to be pretty solid one through nine plus with some depth outside of that,” Nielson said. “For us it starts in the circle. You have to have solid pitching. You can’t walk people. We tell the kids to make sound fundamental plays with damage control when the other team gets a hit and make the plays you are supposed to make.”

Rounding out the defense will be Martin or senior Heather Pickering in right field, junior Gabrielle Templet at first base and sophomore Brooke Capello or Allison Hope at third.

SCHEDULE - St. Amant got a measuring stick of where they stand when they opened the season hosting Class 4A state champion Vandebilt Catholic. The Lady Gators will also close the season there. After a doubleheader against Class 1A semifinalist Ascension Catholic, St. Amant tangles  quaterfinalists Mandeville (5A) and Lutcher (3A) before hosting the Coach “I” Memorial Tournament at Butch Gore Park.

Two games against former district rivals Walker and Central follow before the Lady Gators close out the pre-district slate with the St. Amant Invitational. During district, St. Amant will travel to the Sulphur and Lutcher Tournaments and also play defending state champion Mount Carmel (5A) and runner-up Parkview Baptist (3A).

“It doesn’t do you any good to play a whole bunch of games and not be challenged and pressed into tough situations,” Nielson said. “We want to play as many good teams as often as we can. It keeps you sharp both athletically and mentally.”

In District 6-5A play, the Lady Gators face regionalists East Ascension and Dutchtown as well as Hahnville, Destrehan and East St. John.

“We have a very tough district and know that it prepares us for the playoffs,” Nielson said. “There are no easy games in this district. Anybody could beat anybody any given day.”

OUTLOOK - Nielson said the keys for the Lady Gators will be pitching, defense and timely hitting. 

“The outlook is up to the kids on the field,” Nielson said. “We try to prepare them any way we can but I haven’t had one hit, fielded a ball or struck anybody out since I have been here. The kids do all of that. The expectation is to play the last game in the state of Louisiana on Saturday night the first weekend in May. Anything less than that would be disappointing but would not qualify the season as a failure. The bar has been raised high and is never going down. Rather than looking at the scoreboard, we try to do the body of work correctly. If we take care of our business the results will be favorable.”

St. Amant’s Amie Parent returns to the circle for the Lady Gators after earning District 6-5A MVP last season after compiling a 28-7-1 record with a 1.82 ERA and 215 strikeouts.