Lady Vikings softball team building on last season’s success _lowres

File photo by Rick Hickman/Lake Charles American Press Madison Nicholas and the Opelousas Catholic softball team have been working on core and chemistry this season.

OPELOUSAS — Jay Artall felt his team needed to make a change this offseason.

The Opelousas Catholic softball coach was looking for something to help his young team, which has no returning seniors, build off the momentum from last year’s surprising trip to the Fast Pitch 56 in Sulphur.

Artall came across that something during a visit to the state’s capital during Christmas break.

“I went to a clinic that LSU put on, and the coaches their stressed core training,” Artall said. “From that clinic on, we put a lot of focus on our weight training and developing core.”

That new emphasis placed on the Vikings this winter has paid off in a big way.

Heading into Tuesday’s District 5-2A game against Notre Dame, Opelouisas Catholic had a team batting average of .435 — with seven starters hitting .400 or better, and two players hitting .550 or higher. Madison Nicholas (.564) and Tori Collins (.550) lead the charge.

That is a vast improvement compared to last season, when the team hit only .308 with no player batting over .400.

“Every ball we hit is so much harder now,” Artall said.

The new hard-hitting lineup has helped OCS to one of its best starts in years. The Vikings are 11-2 and ranked No. 5 in the most recent Class 2A rankings.

Last season, OCS went 14-17.

The Lady Vikings say they believe a lot of the success can be contributed to simple bonding.

“We are connected a lot more on the field this year,” Nicholas said. “We finally have gotten got used to one another.”

Collins added: “It has really helped with our confidence. We can count on each other more.”

Despite the hot start and raised expectations, Opelousas Catholic is not looking ahead to repeating as district champions and returning to Sulphur.

“We are taking it one game at a time,” Madison said. “We of course want to get to state, but right now we are just focused on the next team.”

“We just go into each game with a 100 percent effort no matter who we are playing,” Collins said.

That means putting Tuesday’s 11-3 loss, which snapped an 11-game winning streak, behind them and turning their attention to playing three teams in two days at this weekend’s Catholic Tournament in Lafayette. OCS will face Vermilion Catholic on Friday before playing Catholic-Point Coupee and St. Thomas More on Saturday.

“The whole attitude of this team is different than last season,” Artall said. “This group came in to this season wanting to prove themselves, and they are doing that. It has been a really fun group to coach.”