SAHS, ACHS head to Sulphur to reclaim titles
St. Amant and Ascension Catholic have both won multiple state championships in softball. Friday, they begin their quests to reclaim them in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Fastpitch Top 56 state softball tournament at Frasch Park in Sulphur.
“That is the goal and will always be the goal,” St. Amant head coach Scott Nielson said. “Hopefully, we will never lower that expectation. There are only eight teams that get this far and we have the unbelievable good fortune of being there nine straight times. I don’t think the kids feel any pressure from being in this situation. I think they thrive on it, quite honestly. We are just fortunate to be here and to have played well at the right times over the years. Hopefully, we can keep that going and have an opportunity to play for some hardware again this year.”
Second seeded St. Amant (29-4) opens play against No. 10 seed Barbe (19-9) in Class 5A Friday at 6 p.m. on Field #15. The Lady Gators defeated District 6-5A and traditional rival No. 18 East Ascension, 11-1, in the regionals to advance to Sulphur. Barbe, of Lake Charles and District 3-5A, ousted seventh seeded Lafayette to move on.
“I know they are a very well coached team,” Nielson said. “They are going to be fundamentally sound. We have played them in our tournament last year and I know they got some new players, obviously. I know they are going to compete and be scrappy. They always have. I expect a challenge. No doubt about it. I have not seen them play this year but from all indications I have they are going to give us a good softball game.”
It will mark the Lady Gators’ ninth consecutive appearance in the state tournament having won five consecutive championships from 2002-06. Four seniors, Bridget Buquoi, Emily Douglas, Amanda Martin and Heather Pickering were apart of the Lady Gators’ last championship. St. Amant was ousted by Pineville in the semifinals last season after Ruston ended their run in the quarterfinals in 2007.
“All four seniors were in the program the last time we won a state championship,” Nielson said. “Fortunately we have some experience having been this route before. We are a predominantly junior/senior team. We are going to treat it as close to a normal game day as possible. We are going to have our normal practice on Thursday and get up and on the big cheese box Friday morning to head on over there to play the game.”
St. Amant placed second in District 6-5A standings behind Hahnville, after reeling off 18 straight wins to open the season. A matchup with the Lady Tigers potentially looms in the semifinals set for 1 p.m. Saturday on Field #14. The Class 5A final is set for 7 p.m. Saturday night on Field #16.
“Playing on the last day of the season won’t take place unless you win Friday,” Nielson said. “All of our attention right now is on Barbe and we will cross the other bridges when we get there. The entire season is a journey. You are going to run into some speed bumps along the way and face some adversity being challenged with overcoming things. That definitely happened to us along the way. Right now, I feel like we are playing pretty well but the bottom line is whoever is playing the best at game time is going to advance. It is going to take fundamental defense, getting good pitches at the right time and quality at bats. You can throw records out because only the winner is going to move on.”
Sixth seeded Ascension Catholic (18-13-1) opens play against No. 3 seed South Cameron (24-4) in Class 1A Friday at 6 p.m. on Field #17. The Lady Bulldogs defeated No. 11 Hanson Memorial 8-1 to advance to Sulphur. South Cameron ousted Logansport 12-2 to move on. The semifinal is set for 11 a.m. Saturday on Field #18 and the Class 1A final is at 5 p.m. on Field #14.
“They have beat several good teams this year and I know they have a very good pitcher,” Ascension Catholic head coach Darrell Landry said. “With the schedule that we have played, we feel like we have faced someone as good or better than any situation that we will be faced with. We struggled early but we changed our hitting philosophy and the kids are really buying into it. The last few games, we have really hit the ball well. We are going into in it expecting to play well and hopefully bring home that big trophy at the end of the day.”
It marks Ascension Catholic’s fifth appearance in Sulphur in six years. The Lady Bulldogs, who own three state championships in 1995 and 1999-2000, fell to Ouachita Christian in the semifinals last season. They were eliminated by South Cameron in the quarterfinals in 2006, last playing for a title in 2004 against Ridgewood with three seniors Ashlyn Grisaffe, Allison Falcon and Ali Bouchereau playing a role as seventh graders. Other seniors include Kristen Guercio, Katie Gianelloni and Michelle Prejeant.
“We have put a lot of work and effort into this,” Landry said. “We have six seniors on this team and they have been close on occasion to winning it. That would be give me goose bumps and tickle me to death if we can all accomplish that together this year and send them out with a bang.”