LAFAYETTE — The 46-6 record compiled by the LSU-Eunice softball team last year is impressive, but it fails to make clear that the final two games both ended in losses, and those two games happened to be the first two games of the regional tournament.
For a program that had won three NCJAA Division II national championships in the previous four years, the 0-2 postseason effort stung.
“We have a bitter taste in our mouth right now,” coach Andy Lee said. “Hopefully these girls right now are motivated. Maybe we were a little complacent last year and thought we were going to do it like we always have.
“Didn’t quite work as hard or prepare as well as we should have. I’m hoping this team right now is a little more energized and motivated.”
But the team that will take the field at the Galveston College Tournament to open the season will look much different than the one that closed last season on a sour note.
The Bengals brought in 17 freshman to replace a load of talent off last year’s team — four of which will compete to replace the contributions of a pair of All-Americans in the circle.
“It’s nothing new for a junior college coach,” Lee said. “We have to replace our roster every other year with only having the student athletes here two years. We’ve been through this before. You’d love to have depth and returners, and sometimes you just have those years where you’re really young.”
Destin Vicknair and Raven Cole dominated last season, combining to go 38-6 while striking out nearly 400 batters and allowing just 40 runs in 273 innings.
Their production didn’t stop there. While one pitched, the other played first base, where they were two of the more productive hitters in the lineup.
Vicknair, who is now playing at South Alabama, batted .431 and had more home runs (11) than strikeouts (seven). Cole, who is now at North Alabama, hit .321 with five homers and 20 RBIs.
In the circle, a handful of local products and a Canadian are working to replace Vicknair and Cole’s production.
Abigail Leonards (Iota), Hannah Vidallier (North Vermilion), and Elizabeth Fontenot (Port Barre) will compete with Jordan Dougherty of Calgary, Alberta, for time in the circle.
Offensively, the Bengals only return three starters from last season’s team. LSU-Eunice hit 35 home runs a year ago, but 24 of them came from players who are no longer on the team.
But Lee is looking at that as a chance to get back to his coaching roots.
“I’ve got a lot of kids that can run bases, kids that can play defense, can hit for average,” Lee said. “I’m excited about that. It goes back to the way I used to coach, with a lot of stolen bases and putting pressure (on the pitchers) bunting, that type of stuff.”
Last year I sat back and waited on the three-run homer a lot, this year I think we can manufacture some more runs and put pressure on teams in different ways.”
And while his team will look much different than last year’s team, Lee is hopeful the returners use the way the year ended as motivation.
“By no means did we have a bad season last year, we just had a bad weekend,” Lee said. “Hopefully that bitter taste is still in some of our sophomores’ mouths, and they’ll want to finish strong this year.”