Ladies of BOOM: Softball starts practice

Published 12:04 am Friday, January 29, 2016

RESERVE — It takes about three hours to cover the 190 miles or so between St. John the Baptist Parish and Frasch Park in Sulphur.  It also takes a whole lot of work.

East St. John softball coach Lester Jenkins.

East St. John softball coach Lester Jenkins.

Every high school softball player in the state knows that and, come the end of May, that’s where every player hopes to be. Few will get there.

Lester Jenkins knows he has his work cut out for him.

Jenkins is the first-year coach of the East St. John Lady Wildcats, a softball team that can’t remember the last time it saw its name in a post-season bracket. Just last April the team celebrated when it snapped a years-long district losing streak by defeating South Lafourche 16-15.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Jenkins, who came to East St. John to be an assistant football coach under Aldon Foster.

“We have a lot of enthusiasm and some athleticism as far as we can tell. We will be a work in progress. We’d love to make the playoffs — eventually.”

Jenkins coached at Baker High School last year and was instrumental in starting a softball program at St. Helena Central before that. He quickly discovered the lack of feeder programs to the high school and took steps to rectify that.

He said he has persuaded the middle schools in the area to begin playing fast pitch rather than the traditional cabbage ball. He also has set the team up to play in a summer league, which will give the players valuable playing experience.

For now, the Wildcats have two seniors in shortstop Ashley Jackson and utility infielder Erykah Cemelien and a roster of 10 juniors. Among them are pitchers Channel Simmons, Tashi-ana Robinson and Caitlyn Smith. Jenkins also is hoping Taylor Lipps makes her way to the softball field once the basketball season is done.

Riverside Academy

It isn’t often that a first year coach gets to take a team to Sulphur. Riverside Academy coach Tamra Regato knows last year was a special season in which the Lady Rebels went 21-6, put together a 16-game winning streak, earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and advanced all the way to the Class 2A semifinals, where they lost to Winnfield, 9-8.

“It’s going to be really hard to top that first season,” Regato said. “I guess the only way to top it is to get to the state championship game and win it.”

Perhaps it was the Rebels who took Regato. It was the fifth consecutive year that Riverside made it to at least the semifinals. The Rebels won state in 2002.

This year’s team has a few holes to fill, especially those left by All-Staters Erica Delauneuville and Hailey Tassin. Among the key returning players is senior pitcher Cheyenne Triche. She will be joined this year by Megan Hymel, who is returning from injury, and Lexie Johnson, an eighth grader who pitched five innings last season.

“As a pitching staff, we’re very diverse,” Regato said. “I love that we have so many. It doesn’t put so much pressure on just one person.”

The Rebels will face some tougher competition this year, certainly in the form of St. Charles Catholic, which dropped down from Class 3A to Class 2A and is back in the Rebels’ district.

“Well, I’m new,” Regato said. “I don’t know about anybody.”

St. Charles Catholic

The Lady Comets team was devastated when it failed to make the trip to Sulphur in 2014, the first time in nine years. Perhaps no one took it harder than coach Ty Monica.

“It’s hard to go to Sulphur and watch other teams play,” he said. “Parking out there with all the slackies is hard to stomach.”

It bothered Monica so much that, when his team began work in 2015, he put the park’s coordinates on the backs of T-shirts. It worked. The team went 25-7 last season, earned the No. 2 seed in the Class 3A bracket and made its return to the tournament — only to lose in the quarterfinals to Brusly, 10-5.

Monica said the loss did not tarnish the season.

“It’s everybody’s goal to get there,” Monica said. “I look at it like the NFL playoffs. Once you get to the Top 8, anybody can win. All it takes is a bounce of a ball here or there and anything can happen.”

The Comets’ chances of a return trip this season seem promising. The team lost only two seniors from last year and has six seniors returning. Among those is third baseman Destiny Wesley, a five-year starter who has committed to Pearl River Community College.

Monica said the team will “pitch by committee,” with a senior, a junior, a sophomore and a freshman on the list.

“Any one can be in the circle on any given day or in any single game,” he said. St. Charles also will have to adjust to the move down from Class 3A to Class 2A and the district reunion with Riverside Academy. The teams have not played since 2013.

“It’s just another game,” Monica said. “It’s an important game, because it’s the next game.”

West St. John

Like her cross-river counterpart, West St. John coach Courtni Becnel is trying to build a winning softball program. The Lady Rams struggled to an 0-6 record in district play last season.