For the fourth time in five years, the odds seem to favor Baton Rouge’s Class 5A contingent.
There are no guarantees going into the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Fast Pitch 56 State Softball tournament. That’s something 10 local teams understand, including the five Class 5A teams set to play quarterfinal games Friday at Sulphur’s Frasch Park.
“We try to keep it as simple as possible,” St. Amant coach Scott Nielson said. “You concentrate on one game at a time, because if you don’t, you can’t achieve that final goal. Of course, 5A is so balanced.
“It comes down to whoever can play the best for the last three-game stretch.”
Games begin at noon for teams in all seven classes. Semifinals and finals are Saturday. Top-seeded St. Amant (26-0) in 5A is lone unbeaten team in the 56-team tournament and will naturally attract attention. Class 1A Catholic-Pointe Coupee (21-4) is another top seed.
The focus on 5A is natural because local teams take up five of the final eight spots. Two quarterfinals are all-local affairs: No. 6 East Ascension (22-7) takes on No. 14 Zachary (20-11) at 4 p.m. St. Amant meets No. 8 Denham Springs (23-8) at 6 p.m. Dutchtown (24-8), the No. 2 seed, plays No. 2 Mount Carmel (22-3) at 4 p.m.
Baton Rouge also had five quarterfinalists in 2011 and 2012. Last year, four BR teams were in the 5A quarterfinals. However, the last time a local team claimed a title in the top classification was 2006, the last of five in a row for St. Amant. Denham Springs was the runner-up last year and in 2011.
“The game has changed so much in the last 10 years,” East Ascension coach Amy Pitre said. “The pitching distance is different and so are the bats. You don’t see pitchers dominate the way you used to.
“Everyone is prepared. We’ve got a (scouting) book on every team there in 5A, and I’m sure they have one on us. Everybody has talented players. That’s why it’s such a challenge.”
The rare chance for a team to finish the season unbeaten hasn’t changed. St. Amant won one of its titles as a one-loss team and so did John Curtis in Class 2A. Brusly and Catholic-PC, winners in 3A and 1A, respectively, in 2013, were the area’s last state champions. Class 1A Ascension Catholic also was a runner-up last season.
There are also compelling storylines in Class 3A, 1A and Class B.
Fourth-seeded Parkview Baptist (26-8) and No. 7 Brusly (20-11) are District 7-3A rivals with storied playoff histories. Brusly was the 7-3A champion. PBS had runner-up finishes from 2008-10 and again in 2012. Brusly was a runner-up in 2011.
“I think you’ve got a group of teams that are capable of doing the same things,” PBS coach Ashlee Weems said. “I think the (seeding) numbers don’t necessarily indicate who the best team will be on Saturday. We’re young and excited to be a part of this. Whoever wins, it will have to earn it. All three rounds will be tough.”
CHSPC coach Lauren Doucet views the 1A quarterfinalists much the same way. She says a loss in the semifinals a year ago has provided a season’s worth of motivation. Maurepas makes its first appearance since finishing as the Class C runner-up in 2012.
“You’ve got a mix of teams in 1A,” Doucet said. “Some rely more on their pitching and others use their hitting to win. When we put it together, we can do both. I know the girls weren’t satisfied with how they finished last season. That’s made them hungry and emotional and I believe it’s in a good way.”
Fast pitch facts
Denham Springs outfielder Brittany Case leads area players with a .595 average, while St. Amant shortstop Kara Gremillion is at .568. At 23-0, St. Amant’s Gabby Sharp has the top pitching mark.
CHSPC’s Doucet and Weems of Parkview Baptist are former LSU players. Zachary coach Leslie Efferson-Yellott pitched Baker to a runner-up finish in Class 4A in 1991 and coached the Buffaloes to a 5A runner-up finish in 2000.