Local teams ready to kick off softball season
Published 12:00 am Friday, February 17, 2012
By RYAN ARENA
RESERVE — The bad news for Riverside: Two key senior starters from last year’s state semifinalist have graduated.
And that’s just about it for the Lady Rebels, who enter this season as one of the favorites — and perhaps the favorite altogether — to take home the Class 2A state championship.
A Rebels team that spent last season ranked atop of the Class 2A Louisiana Sports Writers’ association poll brings back seven of its nine starters, a group comprised that includes a number of players who began playing as eighth-graders and freshman and boast a wealth of experience.
But though expectations are high, nothing is guaranteed — the Lady Rebels entered last postseason as the favorite but left Sulphur’s Fast Pitch 56 state championship tournament on the wrong end of a 7-5 decision to Evangel in the semifinals, the second consecutive season the Rebels were eliminated by the Eagles.
“I think we’ve had some really good practices recently. These girls know where we want to be and what it takes to get there,” said Riverside coach Kristy Hebert.
Destin Vicknair returns as a key player both on the mound and in the batter’s box. Vicknair, a junior, went 25-3 last season as she earned All-State honors as well as L’Observateur’s St. John Parish softball MVP. She boasted a 0.64 ERA and struck out 162 batters; she also swung the bat to the tune of 42 RBIs and a .544 average.
Centerfielder Taylor Terrio and catcher Katie Bailey are also returning All-Staters, helping to comprise the Rebel core.
RA opens its season Thursday at Thibodaux.
St. Charles Catholic extended their streak of reaching Sulphur again last season, making it to the Class 2A quarterfinals before bowing out to John Curtis.
This season the Comets are back in Class 3A, a home that SCC found to its liking during its last go-round; it captured the 3A state championship in a dramatic championship win over Parkview Baptist in 2008.
So is this year’s Comet team comprised of veteran players like the ones that fueled the ‘08 run, or inexperienced fresh faces that will take time to learn?
“All of the above,” said SCC coach Ty Monica.
“We’re bringing back everyone up the middle, which is good. Our pitcher is coming off of surgery, and this is her first rodeo … we’ve had to fill in some spots, but all in all, eight of the nine in our lineup have swung the bat in Sulphur.”
Chelsea Loupe wasn’t able to fulfill her planned role as a starting pitcher after shoulder surgery last season; ordinarily, the Comets go with two pitchers during a season and have always returned at least one with experience under Monica. But last season, All-State senior Megan Louque pitched for the season’s entirety.
But this season, Loupe leads the way on the mound.
“It’s just a matter of getting her into the swing of things. We have all the confidence in the world in Chelsea and we know she’ll do a good job. But she hasn’t been inside the circle in over a year.
“The one thing I can guarantee is that she’ll get in there and compete. If there’s one thing I know about her, it’s that she’s a competitor.”
Offensively, Monica estimates the Comets have a good mix returning of “slappers and power hitters.” He said his offense will need a big year from catcher Raven Becnel, who returns for her senior year after hitting eight home runs a season ago.
“We’ll have to rely a lot on her, so we need her to step up,” said Monica.
The Comets are scheduled to play two games in their jamboree today (at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.), then to open the season at Covington on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
East St. John is hoping to return to the playoffs to break up a drought of such appearances.
The Wildcats have started strong in years past only to fade in a rock hard district that included powers like East Ascension, Dutchtown and St. Amant in addition to local foes like Destrehan and Hahnville — the latter last season’s 5A state champion.
DHS and HHS remain on the docket for ESJ, but the move from that district to one that includes Ehret, Bonnabel and Higgins might open the door for ESJ to sustain a strong season and extend play into late April.
“Those teams are more the caliber of teams that we can play with,” said Hebert. “I think we’ve seen some positive things so far. We’re looking at a new season and a fresh start.”
The Ladycats boast seven juniors, including standout first baseman Kayla Bourgeois. A sophomore will hold down the pitching circle, as Christen Webre steps in for her first season as the day one starter.
Webre had nine strikeouts in a scrimmage win over West St. John earlier this week, and Bourgeois hit a two-run home run.
Hebert said that early on she expects her Ladycats to rely on defense to put wins on the board and for the offense to makes strides as the season goes on.
ESJ will play in jamboree action today at Ehret, facing Ehret and Academy of our Lady; the games are scheduled to take place at 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. ESJ opens its regular season at Terrebonne Thursday at 4 p.m.
West St. John brought big bats to the diamond last season and hope to break into the next level this season; Rams coach Brandon Dumas said that the ultimate goal, just as it has been in the past few seasons, is not to just extend a streak of postseason appearances, but to notch that elusive playoff victory.
“I think we’ll have a pretty good team,” said Dumas. “We’re losing a few pretty good players, two All-State type girls, from last year’s club. But we should be able to build on what we’ve established from previous years.”
The Rams will add a pair of youngsters who show promise in eighth-grader Maya Trench, who will step in at shortstop, and centerfielder Kaieonne Sorapuru, a freshman. The top returning players include second baseman Tre’Shaun Trench, third baseman Tajhanek Howard, and pitcher Sydnei Young.
Dumas’ team has been shorthanded in the preseason, with basketball players out and injuries sapping the lineup; WSJ was missing five starters in its scrimmage with ESJ, including Young.
“Right now, we’re working on improving awareness and knowledge of the game, especially with so many younger girls playing right now,” said Dumas. “The one positive I really saw was that we were able to keep the ball in front of us and make some plays defensively. I wasn’t looking so much at pitching, or expecting to win there …But I got to see a lot of our younger players get time. And that’s key in case we do have some injuries to account for.”
WSJ will travel to St. James on Thursday for the season opener. The game will begin at 4:30 p.m. ï¿½