Opelousas Catholic had just suffered its third straight defeat by mercy rule at the Sulphur tournament.

The team had lost by a combined score of 35-2 to Class 5A programs Sam Houston, Sulphur and Barbe. Yet in the aftermath of that third loss, OCHS coach Jay Artall gathered his young team together and gave them the following message.

“I told them that I expected to see them back here in May,” Artall said. “Even with being mercy-ruled, you could see the potential in this team.”

The Vikings have proved Artall right first by claiming the District 5-2A title and then pulling off two playoff upsets to earn a spot in the Fast Pitch 56 State Softball Tournament in Sulphur. No. 25 OCHS plays No. 1 Calvary Baptist at 2 p.m. Friday on Field 13 at Frasch Park.

“I knew coach was right,” said center fielder Anna Lafleur, whose older sister Brooke played on the last OCHS team to reach Sulphur. “If you are not confident, then you can’t win. You have to be confident.”

With eight freshmen starters, OCHS (14-15) is one of the youngest teams at the state tournament. That youth played a significant role in the team’s slow start as the Vikings started the season lost 11 of their first 16 games.

More important was the team lacked veteran leadership.

“It has been extremely tough to find a true leader,” Artall said. “These girls are so close in age and are friends that they are hesitant to hurting each other’s feelings. They are slowly growing into leadership roles.”

As the team matured throughout the season, the Vikings performance on the field also improved.

As a team they are batting .308. Opelousas Catholic has four players batting .321 or better, with Emily Ortego (.386) and Tori Collins (.390) at the top of that list.

That production started to shine brightly toward the end of the regular season as the Vikings won six of their final eight games. OCHS then went on the road and upset No. 8 Pope John Paul 6-4 in the opening round and surprised No. 9 Springfield 8-4.

“When our shortstop made the catch to end the game against Springfield, all 13 girls ran to her and started to do a dogpile,” Artall said. “It was special to see.”

OCHS will now try to pull off its biggest upset by taking on the bracket’s top seed. Collins, who will be the starting pitcher for Friday’s game, the Vikings can do just that if they do one simple thing.

“We can win the game,” Collins said. “If we just play within our abilities, then we will be OK.”