Ever since she was a tiny tot, Toni Hebert has looked forward to her family’s annual trip to Sulphur. It certainly was no vacation, though.
For the Hebert family, this trip is all business.
Toni Hebert is the sophomore pitcher at Riverside Academy. Her mom Kristy is in her seventh year as coach of the Rebels, after spending five years as the coach at John Curtis. And for the fourth year in a row, the Hebert family and the Riverside family all will be headed to Sulphur for the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Fast Pitch 56 State Tournament.
Riverside, the No. 5 seed, will take on No. 13 DeQuincy at noon Friday at Frasch Park in the Class 2A quarterfinals. The winner advances to a Saturday semifinal against the Oak Grove-Many winner.
For Riverside, this year’s trip is different in several ways. This year, for the first time in four years, John Curtis is not standing in the Rebels’ way. After a long and storied rivalry between the two teams and several fierce battles, Riverside lost last year’s championship game to Curtis and the 2012 semifinal to Curtis. This year the Patriots elected to play up to Class 3A. And that’s just fine with Kristy Hebert.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s good to know they’re not one of the teams in your way,” Hebert said. “It’s good that some other teams now have a chance to go there and win.”
There are some who might not have given Riverside that chance this season. The Rebels lost several quality players from last year’s state runner-up team, including all-state pitcher Destin Vicknair, now a freshman playing at LSU-Eunice. Hebert also lost all-state outfielder Taylor Terrio and second baseman Megan Stein to graduation. But this year’s squad steadily improved to earn its fourth consecutive trip to the tournament.
“They kind of have a chip on their shoulders. I kind of have a chip on my shoulder because nobody really gave us a chance this season,” Hebert said. “But, about midseason, we really got into a rhythm and we got rolling.”
Hebert also had to tinker with her lineup this season — a lot. She said of the 21 players on her roster, 17 have started at least one varsity game.
“They’re very versatile,” Hebert said. “I’ve never had so many girls who could play so many different positions. It’s great because, when somebody goes down, you don’t sit there scratching your head and wondering what to do. You can just put somebody else in. I think this is one of the funnest seasons I’ve had coaching.”
One of those versatile players is Toni Hebert. Not just the coach’s daughter, Toni is a standout in her own right. She’s been a starter since the seventh grade.
A catcher at heart, Toni has had to move from behind the plate to the pitcher’s circle to help her team.
“I used to pitch when I was little,” she said. “Once we lost Destin, I had to come back. I’m getting used to it now. I just feel like I’m doing what’s best for the team.”
“She’s been pitching since she was 6 years old,” Kristy Hebert said. “Just the confidence and the demeanor that she has, her maturity level is so high. She doesn’t get rattled very easy.”
And she loves to go to Sulphur.
“I love it,” she said. “My favorite thing is the atmosphere and the crowds and the excitement, five teams playing at once. I have great memories there.”