When the 16th seed plays the 17th seed, things are expected to be close. And when you consider that one team (Slidell) went undefeated in district, while the other (East Ascension) was a playoff semifinalist last season, the competition figured to be even tighter.
True to form, both teams played as evenly as expected in a Class 5A opening-round softball playoff game Monday. But a huge seventh inning was the difference.
East Ascension broke open a 4-4 tie with nine runs in the top of the seventh. That was more than enough for the Spartans to seal a 13-7 victory at Slidell.
East Ascension (17-10) will play the winner of the game between top-seeded Alexandria and 32nd-seeded Mandeville. Slidell, the District 6-5A champion, finished 18-5.
The Spartans offense exploded in the seventh, when they sent 13 batters to the plate and banged out eight hits. The big blast came from Jessie Watts on a towering three-run homer to center field.
Watts, a University of Louisiana-Monroe signee, finished 5-for-5 with two home runs, two doubles, and six RBIs. She also earned the win, throwing a complete game.
“I was trying to stay selective and do my job at the plate,” Watts said. “I just felt really good today. Everyone (on both sides) was hitting. I was nervous for the first six innings because the game was so close, but I got my confidence after we hit in the seventh. I may have got a little too confident.”
Down by nine runs, Slidell didn’t back down. Slidell pitcher Tamara Larche hit a three-run homer to bring the score to 13-7 in the bottom of the inning. But Watts got a fly out to left to end the game.
“I was expecting a big inning, and it came at the end with the bottom of the lineup getting it started,” East Ascension coach Amy Pitre said. “That inning was the fourth time they saw (Larche). This group has a bunch of seniors, and they were able to make the adjustments to get the hits when we needed them most.”
East Ascension got on the board in the first. With two outs, Watts lined a double to left, and courtesy runner Raven Williams scored on a liner to left that was dropped. The Spartans still had runners on second and third when Larche forced an infield pop out to end the threat.
The Spartans tacked on another run in the third when Claire Weinberger led off with a bunt single. Verlencia Jackson walked, and Watts followed with a double off the right-field wall that missed being a home run by inches. Weinberger scored on the play, but Jackson was thrown out at third after rounding the bag too far. Larche got two quick outs to keep the score at 2-0.
Slidell got a run back in the bottom of the third when Leigha Suarez reached on an infield single, was sacrificed to second by Qimmah Burdine, and scored on a single to center by Allison Vincent. They took the lead an inning later when Larche led off with a triple to right center. Angel Nikolas reached on an error and both scored on a dropped fly ball in right field, giving the Tigers a 3-2 lead.
The edge was short-lived however, as Watts homered over the right field wall. The two-run blast in the fifth gave the Spartans a 4-3 lead. Things were even in the bottom of the inning when Larche singled home Vincent, who had singled and stole second
Then East Ascension broke the game open in the seventh.
“That’s how it always happens, that someone is going to crack and the other break through,” Slidell coach Robin Herdliska said. “The scoreboard doesn’t diminish what we did this season. These six seniors left their mark this year. We hadn’t won a district championship in 21 years until this year. It just didn’t fall our way in this game.”