Lady Gators ride 19-game winning streak into playoffs

The Lady Gators softball team is riding a 19-game winning streak and a 10-0 undefeated 5-5A district slate into the playoffs. It could have been a little hard to imagine this outcome by the way St. Amant started the season. After the first nine games, the Gators’ record was 4-5. In three of those five losses, the struggling team couldn’t hold on to leads at the end of games.

The Gators had plenty of starters returning from last year’s semifinal team in the state playoffs, and things began to fall into place for coach Scott Neilson’s team.

“Our defense came around, and our pitching developed into what we were capable of,” he said. “I feel like we began to live up to our expectations. We only lost two starters from the 2015 team, although they were very important to our team. We started to put things together after the rocky start.”

And put them together they did. The red-hot team never lost another game to finish out the season at 23-5 and is brimming with confidence going into the playoffs.

Pam Carver, who started as third baseman in 2015, broke her leg and missed the entire season. Abby McKey, the starting left fielder has missed the last seven games of the season with a concussion.

“We’ve had some players step up and fill those gaps pretty well. It’s really been a total team effort rather than one or two star players,” he said. “Madison Hurt has stepped up in the outfield, and Darcus Devertiel has played well. In a utility role, Bailey Bordelon contributes in the outfield, in base running and with her bat as well.”

On the offensive side, Kourtney Gremillion has led the way hitting in the No. 3 spot. She has 10 home runs on the season. Taylor Tidwell is on the stick as well, batting in the No. 2 spot and adding 7 home runs to the offensive effort. And McKey had seven homers before her injury. Neilson is looking forward to her return for the playoffs. So the long ball has been a big factor in St. Amant’s run output.

The Gators also have the luxury of two really good pitchers. Renee Firmin takes the mound on the right side while Kourtney Gremillion pitched from the left side. They not only pitch from different sides of the mound but they have different styles. Most softball teams have one main pitcher with others to fill in the gap, but the Gators have two legitimate starters to take them into the playoffs.

Last year’s 24-1 team made it to the semifinals, but Neilson isn’t making any predictions about this year. “Man, we’re just taking it one game at a time. Our girls are really focused on Denham Springs, that’s what our sights are set on right now. We’ve had a great season.”

St. Amant faced Denham Springs Tuesday.

The Lady Spartans, along with Dutchtown, Ascension Catholic and Ascension Christian High, have made the playoffs as well.

Good luck to our area teams.

Dutchtown senior inks with Temple University

Dutchtown senior Rachel Newcomer signed a letter of intent with Temple University on April 13. Newcomer spent her entire athletic time on a softball field preparing to compete at a top-tier university after high school. Along with her focus on softball, Newcomer hit the books just as hard to be able to get her GPA and ACT scores to the top tier as well.

It came as no surprise that she was actively recruited by multiple colleges to play softball at the next level. Her athletic exploits were noticed by some elite travel ball teams, and she was fortunate enough to play with the best in the country, including Louisiana-based 007’s, the New Orleans Voodoo and the Gold Coast Hurricanes based in Florida.

Newcomer’s play led to an invitation to try out for Team USA’s Women’s World Cup Baseball team. She eventually made a verbal commitment to Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia, to play softball.

True to her nature of hard work at every level, Newcomer took her dad’s advice to try some cross-training. They sought out Mike Babin at CrossFit Performance Training and worked out a plan.

After doing a little research in baseball and softball, they found the majority of injuries come from the shoulders, so Babin began utilizing the rowing machine to build strength in her back and shoulders and to improve injury recovery time.

As part of an endurance test, Babin had her do a timed 1,000-meter row. Babin said he was pretty much wowed by the time. “Her 1,000-meter row was exceptional, so I asked her if she’d ever considered rowing in college.”

“I went home and told my parents about my time on the rowing machine, and my mother suggested that I should put a profile on an online recruiting site,” Newcomer said. “So I posted a picture of me swinging a softball bat and my 1,000-meter time to see what would happen,” not knowing what to expect.

She had no idea about the way her life was going to change. Coaches from all over began to call the Newcomer house recruiting Rachel for their campus. Her dream of competing at a top-tier university was finally becoming a reality. She had to withdraw her commitment from Armstrong for a softball scholarship and eventually chose Temple University in Philadelphia, trading softball for rowing. “This is the place I fell in love with. The crew and the coaches were fantastic, and the university is among the finest in the country when it comes to academics.”

What are Rachel Newcomer’s chances at success at the next level?

“I’ve been coaching athletes since 2005. Some come in not knowing if they are willing to put in the effort, some come in gifted but not realizing the effort needed to go to the next level,” Babin said. “Rachel is very gifted but comes in every day ready to leave it all in the gym. Her character and willingness will carry her a very long way in her athletic career in the future.”

The Newcomer family has played a big role in her athletic quests as well. Big-time support from her parents and two sisters have helped her out, and they wish her the best of luck.

The 2020 summer Olympic Games will be held in Tokyo. Under new IOC policies that shift the Games to an “event-based” program rather than sport-based, the host organizing committee can now also propose the addition of sports to the program. This rule is designed so that sports popular in the host country can be added to improve local interest. As a result of these changes, a new shortlist of eight sports was unveiled on June 22. Baseball/softball is on that list, and ladies softball is extremely popular in Japan. A final decision on the proposed sports will be announced in August.

So what do you think? Should Rachel start learning to speak Japanese?

We’ll leave you with a quote from Rachel: “Some would call it luck, and some would call it chance. What I know is that I never stopped working, and coach Mike and my dad never stopped pushing me towards my goals. I have heard luck defined as when hard work meets opportunity. I hope my story inspires girls never to stop pursuing the dream of realizing their potentials as elite athletes.”

Lyle Johnson covers sports for The Ascension Advocate. He can be contacted at reelman@eatel.net or ascension@theadvocate.com.