CECILIA — Coach Cody Champagne is changing his postseason preparation.
Cecilia is in the Class 4A softball playoffs for the 10th time in the past 14 seasons, but Champagne’s team has not advanced past the first round since a 6-3 win over DeRidder in 2010. In the five seasons since then, Cecilia is 0-5 in the opening-round with a pair of losses to Cabrini and Grant and one to Lutcher in 2015.
No. 19 Cecilia (15-11) plays at No. 14 Grant (15-15) at 6 p.m. Monday.
“I am trying to approach it a little bit different this year,” Champagne said. “In the past, we would have a playoff game and I would be like we have to do this and this and this. Last year, we didn’t play well against Lutcher. I think we had like eight errors, and we didn’t put the ball in play. So instead of focusing on one particular thing to work on, I am just telling the girls that we have been preparing for this moment the entire year. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be prepared.”
Heading into the season, there were doubts whether Cecilia would have the chance to win a playoff game. The Bulldogs lost six starters from last year’s team, including ace pitcher Madison Guidry.
“At the end of last year, I looked at my assistant coach and said, ‘Man we are going to struggle next year,’ ” Champagne said. “The girls went to work this summer and fall, and they got stronger and better.”
The team may have gotten stronger but fielding such an inexperienced team resulted in stretches of inconsistent play in the field and at the plate. Cecilia started off losing four of its first six, being outscored in the losses 45 to 11 and winning the other two by a score of 29-2.
“You get frustrated with the inconsistency,” Champagne said. “Sometimes we play really well, and then the next game we don’t play as well.”
As the season progressed, Champagne brought some stability to the lineup as he moved a pair of seniors to the top of the lineup. The catalyst for that move was a 9-5 loss to Opelousas Catholic on March 15.
“My one, two, and three hitters came up in the first, fifth and seventh innings, and they were 0-for-9,” Champagne said. “And my four- and five-hole hitters went 3-for-3 each with three doubles each. We lost that game, but if I would have had somebody on base we could have drove them in. It was after that when I made the switch.”
The switch has paid off as catcher Haley Godeaux and third baseman Gabbie Dugas lead the team in most of the offensive categories. Godeaux is hitting .450 with 32 runs scored, 18 RBIs, four home runs and 20 stolen bases. Dugas, meanwhile, is second on the team with a .394 average with 20 runs and 14 RBIs.
After the switch, Cecilia also went 8-0 in District 5-4A for the team’s fourth district title since 2006.
“I did that to just try to get us started,” Champagne said. “That made us a little bit more consistent.”
Junior Chalisse Huval has went from a deep bench player to someone Champagne can count on. The first-year starter is 15-9 with 103 strikeouts but also has over 100 walks. Champagne likes what he has seen from Huval over the course of the season.
“I got her as a freshman, and she really didn’t have a skill,” Champagne said. “One practice she couldn’t the catch the ball, so she didn’t play much. Her sophomore year she got a little bit better, and I gave her some opportunities with pinch hitting. But she decided this summer to work in the weight room and at pitching, and she is one of the strongest kids we have ever had now. It is paying off.”
So what will it take for Cecilia to get over that first-round hump this time around? Champagne said it is pretty simple.
“It is up to us if we make a little run or not,” Champagne said. “The most consistent thing in my opinion has been our defense. For the most part we made the routine plays. So if we can throw strikes and put the ball in play a little who knows what happens?”