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Youth movement springs Iota into postseason

Last Modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 1:08 PM

By Rhett Manuel / American Press

What a difference a year makes.

A year ago, the Iota Lady Bulldogs stumbled into the playoffs as a No. 30 seed in Class 2A. Their reward was playing Evangel.

At the same time, first-year Iota head coach Leah Andrus was in the home stretch of her senior season playing softball at Nicholls State.

Iota played Evangel tough, losing 7-5 in that opening round game.

Meanwhile, Andrus started 48 games for the Colonels and hit .309 as Nicholls finished 22-26.

One year later, Andrus’ playing experience and Iota’s youth have turned the Lady Bulldogs into an emerging power. Iota is 22-4 and earned the No. 6 seed in the Class 3A playoffs. They host District 4-3A foe No. 27 Westlake (10-12) today at 5:30 p.m. in the bi-district round.

While some may view Andrus as too young to hold a head coaching position — she’s 22-years old — perhaps those same people may view Iota as being “too young” to compete so soon. Andrus planned on having four seniors on the field this season but ended up with one due to injuries and medical issues.

But that senior, Abigail Leonards, has been the workhorse of Iota’s success after missing her junior year with her own injuries. Leonards’ 1.56 ERA has led her team to a 4-3A district runners-up position and steadied the Lady Bulldogs’ lineup.

“Last year, Abigail had surgery on her foot,” Andrus said. “She was in a boot all of last year and didn’t get even get to play. They were switching pitchers in and out. It’s easy when one pitcher throws your innings for the most part because your defense can play the same.

“Abigail’s that kid that does exactly what you have to do,” Andrus added. “She always takes extra cuts and is the first to get everything ready. I never have to tell her anything. She’ll get her hitting in and then go pitch.”

The lack of seniors has left Andrus’ young group, led by sophomores Katelyn Stephens and Heather Gardner, a chance to build an on-field chemistry that is paying dividends both now and in the future.

“This team has a whole year under their belt,” Andrus said. “Heck, they lost to Evangel in the playoffs last year and they’re ranked right around us right now. (We’re) a good team.”

But even an experienced coach is only as good as its assistants. Andrus went with someone she was familiar with as she made the transition to coaching. Andrus’ assistant, Louise Johnson, coached her at St. Edmund during her high school playing days. According to Andrus, the relationship has worked because of their familiarity.

“She made me the player I was,” she said. “We talk things through and we think a lot alike. So, it’s not like I’m telling them one thing and Coach Johnson is telling them another. It’s consistent.”

Andrus is quick to deflect any credit for Iota’s surge. Speaking to her, one can tell that she holds Johnson, her players and seniors in high regard.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do without these seniors,” Andrus said. “This being my first year coaching, they’ve made it easy. They all want to work hard and put forth the effort.”

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