Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 27, 2011



RESERVE — Even before the season’s very first game, Riverside has carried heavy expectations upon its shoulders.

The Rebels have carried them well. The Rebels would crush defending Class 4A champion Vandebilt Catholic — the current Class 4A No. 4 seed and a team the Rebels would go on to defeat three times — 14-4 to begin the season and would lose only two games all season. Riverside, which returned seven starters from a team that advanced to the state quarterfinals a year ago, was ranked first all season by a longshot, finishing almost a point-and-a-half better than any other 2A school in power points.

Those preseason expectations fortified, a trip to Sulphur seemed like a formality. But South Beauregard, a team Riverside had handled easily in two previous games, nearly shocked the Rebels in the regional round Thursday night — Riverside won, 8-7, but for the first time nerves seemed to play a factor in a game the Rebels made a number of uncharacteristic errors.

But now, the Rebels (29-2) have made it to the state tournament. Riverside will face No. 8 seed Mamou at 4 p.m. on Friday at Frasch Park in Sulphur.

Riverside coach Kristy Hebert believes the nerves are behind her team and that the experience of being to Sulphur a year ago should serve her players well.

“I think having those issues and still being able to come out with the win, we’re able to put it behind us,” she said. “We’ve had a couple of really good practices since then. The good thing is, they’ve been there, in that environment, and know what to expect.”

Mamou (25-8) defeated Fisher in the first round, 13-0, then edged Pine Prairie, 2-1, to advance to the quarterfinals. Mamou rotates two pitchers, Kaitlyn Gullory and Katie Deville. Chelsey Guillory and Emily Vidrine are among their leading hitters.

The Rebels boast one of the state’s deepest offensive lineups and perhaps its most dominant pitcher. The Rebels bat .335 as a team, and that offensive production is almost always more than enough for pitcher Destin Vicknair. Vicknair entered the regional round with just a 0.14 ERA (and only gave up one earned run in the win over South Beauregard). She is 26-2 on the season.

As the top seed, Riverside enters as the favorite. Hebert said, however, that she’s warned her team that while the top seed does enjoy some advantages, it also means that they’ll essentially receive everyone’s best shot.

“It’s a good thing and the girls earned that with their play. But at the same time, it makes the target on you bigger,” she said. “Nobody’s going to lay down just because they seed the top seed by your name. South Beauregard proved that.”

But one positive the Rebels will indeed enjoy due to their ranking is that they will bat as the home team in each potential game, as opposed to it being decided by a coin flip as it’s been in years past.

If the Rebels win Friday, and then again on Saturday afternoon, some potential storylines could emerge. Potential championship matchups include clashes with crosstown rival St. Charles and district foe John Curtis — the team that Hebert coached the last time she reached a championship game.

Riverside’s lost once since the season’s fifth game — a 5-0 loss to Curtis on April 8. It split with the Patriots and swept SCC.

The semifinals also could boast a rematch, but one from a year ago — the RA/Mamou winner will face the winner of Winnfield and Evangel, setting up a potential chance for Riverside to avenge its quarterfinal loss to the Eagles a year ago.

But first thing’s first for Hebert and her team: Mamou.

“We know they’ve got a couple of good pitchers and that they can really hit, especially of late,” said Hebert. “They’re in the final eight, so that says enough right there.

“What makes me feel good is that, given the competition we’ve played, the girls have faced every caliber of team you can really play and been put in all different types of situations.

“We shouldn’t see anything new.”