Being undefeated can be a blessing and/or a curse. Think Kentucky basketball.
A week ago the Wildcats were unbeaten. People projected the first perfect men’s college basketball season since 1976. But then UK lost to Wisconsin in the NCAA semifinals. There was no storybook ending.
St. Amant High softball coach Scott Nielson isn’t thinking about a storybook ending. Just the next game.
The Gators (23-0, 8-0) put their unbeaten record on the line when they travel to play rival East Ascension (20-6, 7-1) in a District 5-5A showdown at 5 p.m. Thursday.
“Going unbeaten is hard to do,” Nielson said. “We had one year where we finished 38-1 and there was another year when John Curtis was 37-1 and we were their only loss.
“Being unbeaten is something I think the kids worry about more than we do as coaches. This will be the first of our last five regular-season games. Our goal is to get a little better every day and play the best we can.”
Nielson’s experience with that 38-1 team in 2004 really wasn’t a primer for this season. The 2004 squad came in the middle of five straight 5A state titles for St. Amant. These Gators are a different animal.
After losing to Pineville in the quarterfinals a year ago, Nielson bid farewell to nine starters. Shortstop Kara Gremillion, a Louisiana-Lafayette signee, is the lone returning starter. Pitcher Gabby Sharp was 9-0 as the No. 2 pitcher.
To be fair, Nielson had high expectations. But there’s a difference between expectations and being unbeaten in Louisiana’s ultra-competitive Class 5A.
“I knew we were going to be young,” Nielson said. “We’re playing freshmen and sophomores. But I knew we weren’t inexperienced. We’ve got a lot of girls who’ve played tournament ball for several years. I told them, ‘Look, you’re not playing under-14 any more. This is under 19.’ ”
The youthful Gators have handled the challenge the way most people expect — with lots of offense. Counting a Hall of Fame game the LHSAA doesn’t tally, SAHS has scored 10 or more runs 19 times.
There have been two extremely close calls, a 6-5 victory over Mount Carmel on March 16 and a 10-9 win over another Ascension rival, Dutchtown, on March 30. East Ascension led the Gators in the early stages of a 12-4 victory on March 24.
Being a game out of first in 5-5A provides plenty of incentive for East Ascension. Like Nielson, EAHS coach Amy Pitre isn’t trumpeting St. Amant’s unbeaten status.
“We talked about a lot of things at practice tonight, and that wasn’t one of them,” Pitre said. “The main thing we talked about was playing better than we did the last time. We got off to a good start, but we made some errors. With their offense, you’d better bring your offense too.”
Pitre said the rivalry between the two schools is a factor. A victory over the Gators might be the signature win that pushes the Spartans to deep postseason run.
Some coaches would over their shoulder to see that potential loss coming. Not Nielson.
“Whatever happens in the next five games happens,” Nielson said. “The top teams in 5A are all very talented. And when you start the playoffs everybody is 0-0.”