St. Thomas More’s Whitney Romero no-hits South Terrebone _lowres

Advocate photo by BRAD KEMP St. Thomas More softball coach Andria Waguespack celebrates a home run by Kalelyn Norse against South Terrebonne in a firstr-round play game April 18.

The St. Thomas More softball team didn’t know to handle the ups and downs last season.

STM entered the 2015 season coming off back-to-back state championships but fielded its most inexperienced squad in years. That team hadn’t yet learned how to deal with the adversity of a long season, and that showed as the Cougars finished the regular season 14-10 before losing to Belle Chasse in the opening round of the Class 4A playoffs.

“It was frustrating last year,” longtime STM coach Andria Waguespack said. “We had to work through inconsistencies, and we had to work through the inexperience. All of those things are a work in progress, and that can be frustrating, especially for a young group like we had last year.”

This year’s team learned from those growing pains as STM is once again back at the Fast Pitch 56 state tournament in Sulphur, with an eye tward bringing home another state title. No. 8 STM (19-9) faces defending state champion No. 1 North DeSoto in a quarterfinal game at 6 p.m. Friday.

“The biggest difference between this team and last year’s team is that this team knows how to handle the peaks and valleys of a season,” Waguespack said. “These girls know how to be a better team, to be better teammates and how to have a better culture.”

That culture is a mixture of senior leadership and youthful enthusiasm.

“We have had some girls who have stepped up for us, and we have had some girls in the dugout that have stepped up for us,” Waguespack said. “It’s not always in that starting nine. It is all about holding one another accountable, and we have done that this season.”

Sophomore center fielder Julia Laperouse is one of those girls that have stepped up for the Cougars. Laperouse was primarily known around campus for her and her twin sister’s prowess on the volleyball court, but Laperouse decided to come out for softball this year. The first-year starter has been a breath of fresh air.

“She came out with a great attitude and a ton of energy,” Waguespack said. “She goes 100 mph every day. You never see her without a smile on her face. She is constantly positive and working hard. It is nearly impossible for that not to rub off on the rest of the team. She is a heck of athlete. She needs to learn the skills.”

While Laperouse has provided an energy boost, two state championship veterans have provided the much-needed leadership for the team in senior pitcher Whitney Romero and her battery mate Bailey Hemphill.

“Whitney has been the steady constant for us this year as she has carried a big load for us this season,” Waguespack said. “She is in the circle for us, and we really feed off of her. When she’s solid out there then we are solid.”

As for her star catcher, Waguespack has been most impressed with the Alabama’s commitment to handling not getting pitches to hit. More than a few opposing teams have opted to intentionally walk her instead of being another Hemphill home run victim.

“What I love about Bailey is that when we played Belle Chasse in the second round they walked her, and she handled it really well,” Waguespack said. “Last year, she didn’t handle well because it was the first time she had to deal with it. It was difficult for her to lead without the bat in her hand. But she had a year to grow, and she has grown into her maturity role.”

For STM to bring home another state title, the team must first get past the team that Waguespack said is “the most talented team in 4A.” North Desoto outscored its first two playoff opponents 16-0.

“It is going to be a battle,” Waguespack said. “But it is good to know that our kids have been tested, and that our kids trust us when we send a play in. I am excited right now about our team. I think we are in a good place.”