ST. AMANT — With such a rich tradition, it’s customary for St. Amant’s softball program to dream big.
“Our goal is to play in the (state) championship game every year,” St. Amant coach Scott Nielson said. “We start nine seniors and a junior. They’ve got their sights set on one goal, and we’ve got the team that can possibly make it happen if things happen the right way.”
Top-seeded St. Amant punched its ticket for a fourth straight appearance in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association State Softball Tournament with a methodical 7-2 Class 5A regional victory Friday over No. 16 Sulphur at Lady Gator Park.
St. Amant (30-2) extended its win streak to 12 games and faces No. 9 Pineville, a 2-1 winner over No. 8 Natchitoches-Central, in Friday’s quarterfinal at 6 p.m. at Sulphur’s Frasch Park.
“This is a tough round and to meet the No. 1 seed is even tougher,” said Sulphur coach Julie Mancuso, whose team had a seven-game win streak snapped and finished 21-4. “They fought until the end, and that’s what I asked them to do, so I’m proud of them.”
St. Amant, which has advanced to the semifinals the past two years, never trailed in building a 4-0 lead, never blinked after allowing a two-run homer and put the game away with a three-run fifth inning.
Three of the Gators’ nine hits produced six of their seven runs with center fielder Madison Edmonston (2-for-3), first baseman Aly Delany (1-for-3) and designated player Rachel Gautreaux (2-for-4) delivering two-run singles in the second, third and fifth innings.
“It doesn’t matter how many hits you get, it matters how many hits you get when you need them,” Nielson said. “I’ve always said timely hitting is the key to the playoffs. You’ve got to get kids in scoring position. We left 10 people on base which is way too many, but the good news is we were up five and there’s no such thing as a five-run home run.”
Winning pitcher Skylar Cook (21-2) faced only one batter over the minimum through three innings, with shortstop Kara Gremillion turning a double play and catcher Carlie Whittington throwing out a would-be base stealer — plays that erased one-out singles.
Cook’s lone mistake — her first pitch to Alexis Mouton in the fifth — landed over the center-field fence and reduced St. Amant’s lead to 4-2.
Cook, however, retired the next 10 batters she faced until hitting a batter and yielding a single with two outs in the seventh. She promptly ended the game with a strikeout — her seventh — to go with a walk and five hits allowed.
“I just pushed it out of my head and didn’t worry about it,” said Cook, who threw 57 of 95 pitches for strikes. “We have strong enough hitters to get those runs back. I wasn’t that worried about the home run.”
St. Amant answered Sulphur’s two runs with four of its own on four hits in the bottom of the fifth.
Emily Cheatwood singled home Jaci Lavigne, who led off with a hustling double, before the Gators loaded the bases on Whittington’s infield single and Kara Gremillion getting hit by a pitch.
Sulphur went back to original starting pitcher Devyn Knippers, who left in favor of reliever Lauren Vandergriff after 2.2 innings and trailing 4-0. Following a strikeout for the second out Delany laced a two-run single to center.
“Of course you need some luck on down the road somewhere,” Nielson said of winning a state title. “But I like our kids and the way they compete.”