Warren Arceneaux column: Curtain falls on softball

Published 9:16 am Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The area contingent at the high school state championship softball tournament was not as large as usual, but there are plenty of positives to take away from the recently concluded season, most notably a great season by the area’s two tournament participants, the Sam Houston Broncos and Vinton Lions.

The Broncos finished 31-3, losing 4-0 to nationally ranked St. Amant in the nonselect Division I championship game. The Gators, ranked 11th in the country by USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll, handed the Broncos two of their three losses, by a combined score of 6-0.

St. Amant dominated most opponents, beating its first three playoff foes by a combined 28 runs. Broncos pitcher Lexi Dibbley kept the Gators in check over the first three innings, holding them hitless and not allowing a ball out of the infield. The Gators pieced together a three-run rally in the fourth inning to take control and made a few key defensive plays to thwart several Sam Houston scoring opportunities.

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The outcome should do little to dampen the Broncos’ accomplishments, which included a return to the state championship game for the first time in eight seasons, a brilliant display of power in the a 6-3 semifinal win over Live Oak that included four home runs, an undefeated run to capture the District 3-5A title and a 20-game winning streak.

The Broncos crushed the ball all year, scoring 10 or more runs in 21 games. Dibbley had one of the best individual seasons in recent memory with 22 pitching wins and 18 home runs at the plate.

She and fellow McNeese State signee Brylie Fontenot will be among the departees as the Broncos lose a large senior class, but the team will have a handful of key returnees including slugging first baseman Aubrey Hobbs, who smashed a three-run homer in the semifinal game; third baseman Carolina Eidson, who had three hits in the semifinal and second baseman Hailey Mire, who had three hits in the two tournament games.

Vinton had the best season in program history, not only winning in the playoffs for the first time but putting together a run to Sulphur that included a road win over top seed and defending state champion LaSalle in the quarterfinals to send the team to the state tournament.

The Lions were led by a dual-threat star of their own in Jaycie O’Conner, who held a LaSalle team that had piled up 53 runs in its previous four game to just three to help Vinton reach Sulphur.

The Lions lost in the semifinals to French Settlement, the eventual nonselect Division IV champion, but laid the foundation for continued success with their breakthrough season. Vinton loses one senior from this year’s team. In addition to O’Conner, the Lions will welcome back the middle of the lineup with shortstop Jolie Gary, outfielder Ryleigh English and first baseman Emma Planchard all back next year.

There are plenty of candidates with a chance to increase the area’s presence in Sulphur at next year’s state tournament.

Kinder earned a top-four playoff seed in Division IV before losing to former district rival Rosepine in the regionals. The Yellow Jackets will return star sophomore Bri Fontenot, like Dibbley, a standout pitcher who doubles as a power hitter at the plate.

A young Barbe team made a late-season surge that included a playoff win at Dutchtown and narrow loss at West Monroe in the quarterfinals. The Bucs will return the majority of their batting order as well as the pitching tandem of Ava Jessup and Baleigh Scott, who was the hero of the win at Dutchtown with a go-ahead three-run home run.

Sulphur made strides under first-year head coach Brooke David, winning 21 games on the season, a playoff win over Denham Springs, the program’s second postseason win since 2015. The Tors lose power hitter Emma Thomson but should have another strong lineup featuring returnees Gracie Higginbotham, Payton Prince and Pressy White.

St. Louis Catholic had a turnaround season, winning a playoff win for the first time since 2014, and will return a host of starters including Mia Leger, Katie Wilfer, Claire Mellard and Aila Brassieur.

Iowa suffered a tough loss to Brusly to miss out on a third consecutive trip to Sulphur and loses a quintet of star hitters led by school home run record-holder Kamryn Broussard, but should remain in the mix with pitcher Ayla Stollsteimer and hitters Parkar Daigle, Leah Cox, Alivia Singletary and Andie Huval among the top returnees.

DeQuincy and Oakdale both reached the quarterfinals in Division IV, while Bell City had a 20-win season that included several wins over large schools such as Comeaux, St. Louis and DeQuincy.

Warren Arceneaux covers high school athletics. Email him at warren.arceneaux@americanpress.com