An infusion of talent has gone a long way in transforming Crowley’s softball fortunes this season.
A year after failing to qualify for the state playoffs the Ladies, who sport an eight-member freshmen class and five sophomores, are back in postseason play with a first-round home game as further evidence of their turnaround.
No. 12 Crowley (24-6) faces No. 21 Benton (16-12) in a Class 4A first-round game at 3 p.m. Saturday at Northside Christian in Crowley.
“We had a rough go of it last year,” Crowley second-year coach Joshua Schrader said. “We have a very strong freshman group that stepped in this year. They play travel ball and won state and nationals in their age group. We’re very young, and hopefully we’ll keep building on what we’ve done this year and keep getting better for next year.”
No. 14 St. Edmund (11-14) will host No. 19 Lafayette Christian Academy (14-14) in a Class 1A first-round game at 4 p.m. Saturday in Eunice.
Despite a third-place finish in District 4-4A, Crowley earned a high enough seed to host on the strength of nondistrict wins over Fontainebleau, St. Scholastica, Vandebilt Catholic and Hanson Memorial.
The Ladies led all Class 4A teams with 24 regular-season victories and were only one of three teams in its class to reach the 20-win plateau.
“We played some tough opponents in nondistrict play,” Schrader said. “There were some hard-fought games, some that we were able to pull out in the last couple of innings. We’ve been very resilient when it’s come down to being down a couple of runs in the late part of the game.”
Schrader said the complexion of his youthful team was obvious in District 4-4A games with the league’s top two teams — Leesville and DeRidder.
The Ladies, who were 10-1 before the start of district, were swept by the district’s top two teams, falling to DeRidder in a pair of one-run games. They followed up a 12-1 loss to Leesville with a more respectable 5-2 setback in the season finale.
“They’re very junior- and senior-based teams with experience and are used to winning a lot of games,” Schrader said of Leesville and DeRidder. “We went and competed with both of them. We felt a little more confident the way we played those top teams.”
Freshman pitcher Nella LaGrange (23-6, 2.65 ERA) has made quite an impact in her first season with 182 strikeouts in 181 innings.
The Ladies also have a core group of offensive leaders topped by sophomore center fielder Breana Larry (.463, five homers, 23 RBIs, 31 runs), freshman shortstop Phobee Spell (.457, three HRs, 10 3Bs, 23 RBIs, 38 runs) and sophomore Morgan Guidry (.400, three HRs, 23 RBIs, 45 runs).
“Our pitcher’s always going to keep us in the game,” Schrader said. “If we hit, we can compete with whoever we play.”