Despite rebuilt lineup, Rebels back to Sulphur
Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, April 29, 2014
By RYAN ARENA
LAPLACE — Riverside extended their run of appearances at the state softball tournament in Sulphur appearances to five with playoff wins over Oakdale and Hannan last week. But the Rebels aren’t quite satisfied with that.
It was a year ago that Riverside lost a heartbreaking 3-2 game to John Curtis in the Class 2A state championship game. 2013 had been earmarked by many Rebel supporters as ‘the year’ for a Riverside championship, after RA had reached the state semifinals in each of the previous two seasons. But when the senior-laden Rebels lost a classic title game, the departures of core players Taylor Terrio, Destin Vicknair, Katie Bailey, Megan Stein and Kori Bourgeois would leave the Rebels in retooling mode in 2014 — or so it was thought.
Instead, Riverside enters the Sulphur field playing as well as anyone else in Class 2A, winners of 11 of their last 13 games. RA has outscored its two-playoff opponents by a combined margin of 29-6.
The fifth-seeded Rebels (16-11) will open play in Sulphur against No. 13 DeQuincy (19-6) in a quarterfinal game at noon Friday. The winner of that game will face the victor between No. 1 Oak Grove and No. 9 Many.
“I’m so proud of all of our girls, to play the brutal schedule they did and be in the position to go back now,” said Riverside coach Kristy Hebert. “They had to hear about how many players we lost from a year ago and it drove them all season long.”
Rebels pitcher Toni Hebert echoed that.
“We had some people who doubted us, but we just used it as motivation,” she said. “We played a lot of strong teams this year. We learned from our losses and we’re putting it all together now.”
Added third baseman Madison Watson, “People saying that we lost our pitcher (Vicknair), we weren’t going to have the success … hearing that just made us step up.”
Toni Hebert earned the regular starting pitching job early in the season and the sophomore has put together solid numbers, posting a 2.87 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 83.5 innings pitched during the regular season.
Kristy Hebert said that the Rebels have been able to count upon its defense all season, while her first-year pitcher has gotten stronger as the season has gone on.
But what the coach believes will be the ultimate key to Riverside’s success in Sulphur will be its hitting. When Riverside’s bats are hot, the Rebels have been tough to beat: Riverside is 15-0 when scoring six runs or more, but just 1-11 when falling short of that mark.
“Our lineup can really hit from top to bottom,” said Riverside shortstop Erica Delaneuville. “I feel like if we’re all on, nobody’s going to stop us.”
Delaneuville has been the Rebels’ most productive hitter this year, posting a .464 average with 27 RBIs and four home runs in the regular season.
But she’s far from the only threat. Four Rebels are hitting over .400 and all nine regular Rebel starters are hitting over .300. Five RA players have hit home runs this season.
Madison Watson (.424, 25 RBIs), Toni Hebert (.438, 20 RBIs, 35 steals) Hailey Tassin (.403, 14 RBIs) and Peyton Sutton (.373, 30 steals, 10 RBIs) give the top and heart of the Rebel order a balanced look with speed and power.
Watson said that the Rebel players have built an extremely close bond with one another both on and off the diamond. Both she and Delaneuville credited much of the Rebels’ success to that closeness.
“I think my favorite part of going up to Sulphur is spending time with my roommates and having fun with my teammates,” said Watson. “And when we win, that’s not bad either.”
DeQuincy (19-6) and Riverside are no strangers to one another: Friday will mark the third consecutive season the two teams have faced one another in the state playoffs, with the Rebels winning both times: 8-0 in last year’s quarterfinals and 7-3 in a 2012 regional game.
The Tigers have won six straight games, the last two playoff nailbiters: a 6-5 win over Kinder and a 10-8 win at Rosepine. DeQuincy finished as District 7-3A runner-up.
Other top contenders in the field include Oak Grove, the top seed in 2A that has won 15 of its last 16 games, and No. 2 seed Calvary Baptist, which nearly upset a powerful Curtis team on Mar. 26, falling 1-0.
Kristy Hebert said that she feels her team will be ready to go despite the presence of four new starters.
“They’ve all been there even if they didn’t start, so they’ve seen the environment,” she said. “As for our vets who have played, I’ve talked to them. They know that now we need them to step it up a little more because this is when we need them.”