Upon their 3 a.m. return Sunday morning, the Kaplan softball team was in possession of an additional piece of hardware riding in the team’s bus.
After two days of grueling competition, prolonged by constant rains, the Lady Pirates sported the Class 3A state championship after a 4-0 victory over Lutcher.
The second overall state title for the Lady Pirates and first since 2006 hardly followed a conventional path.
“We had some people who couldn’t make the game because of a wedding, and they were waiting on us,” said Kaplan coach Shay Herpin, the program’s coach the past 17 years. “When the kids walked off the bus, they were like zombies. I told them the girls had been up for almost 24 hours.”
On a day when nothing ran according to schedule, Kaplan’s quest for a state championship Saturday at Sulphur’s Frasch Park was a testament to the team’s single-minded approach toward meeting its objective.
The Lady Pirates, a year removed from a one-run loss to John Curtis in the Class 3A state title game, were out to make amends, and in their minds, weren’t leaving empty-handed once again — regardless of the obstacles.
Kaplan, which opened Friday with a 3-0 win over Iota, had to go through top-seeded Parkview Baptist and follow up with a red-hot No. 15 seed Lutcher.
“They knew what the ultimate goal was,” Herpin said. “I didn’t realize how focused they were until we got to the state tournament.”
More than anyone, Kaplan proved adept at handling the curveballs Mother Nature threw its way.
Because they had to check out of their hotel by 11 a.m. on Saturday, Kaplan had ample time on its hands because its state semifinal with Parkview Baptist had been delayed four hours by rain.
Without a place to go, the Lady Pirates headed 30 minutes south to Hackberry, where a friend of a team member offered her home.
Not only were they able to lounge around in an outdoor kitchen, but the home also featured a batting cage, enabling players to get in some swings in advance of their game.
Kaplan was also able to take infield at Hackberry High and its artificial-turfed infield that is comparable to Frasch Park’s. The Lady Pirates did incur one setback, though, before returning to Sulphur and upsetting Parkview Baptist 8-2.
Catcher Shelbee Leger suffered a broken nose, the victim of a thrown ball that caromed off the ground and hit her directly in the face.
“We iced it to try and keep the swelling down,” Herpin said. “She was a warrior.”
Kaplan found itself trailing for the first time in the playoffs — 2-0 — which were the only runs standout pitcher Abby Trahan allowed until taking the lead for good an inning later.
Shortstop Alexa Lege hit a three-run homer, Dawn Burton drove in a run in the fourth, and after batting around in the fifth, Leger made it 6-2 with a two-run single.
Once again, lodging became an issue.
The state championship game was scheduled for 7 p.m., so instead of an anticipated quicker turnaround, Kaplan was left with approximately seven hours in between games and no hotel rooms in the interim.
Kaplan’s day of ingenuity continued when Herpin brought his Lady Pirates to his father’s hotel — the Golden Nugget — where they were able to eat, freshen up and relax in the lounge area while the coaches went over scouting reports and prepared for Lutcher.
“It was a very interesting turn of events,” Herpin said. “The kids remained focused throughout.”
Kaplan anxiously arrived at Frasch Park well in advance of its state final, which was pushed back and ultimately got underway at 11:15 p.m.
With Trahan, voted the Class 3A tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, locked in a pitchers’ duel for five innings, Kaplan broke it open in the sixth when Megan Hebert scored on Olivia Trahan’s suicide squeeze bunt.
Lege followed with a two-run single, giving Trahan (23-5) all the support she needed. The senior right-hander limited Lutcher to a pair of infield singles and struck out 14 — raising her season total to 301.
Trahan retired the heart of Lutcher’s lineup in the seventh, setting off an emotional celebration that took place at 1 a.m. Sunday before loading the bus — state championship trophy and all — for the ride home.
“Usually we break when we come home,” Herpin said of the team’s usual routine. “One of the players said, ‘Do we have to break?’ I told them ‘No, ya’ll go home. I know you’re tired.’ ”
After a job well done.