Powerball: Area players swinging for the fences

Warren Arceneaux

High school softball playoff pairings will be released Friday with first-round games likely being played Saturday and Monday.

The theme of the regular season has been an offensive explosion throughout the area, particularly in terms of home runs. At least five area players — South Beauregard’s Morgan Eaves, Iowa’s Kamryn Broussard, Sam Houston’s Brylie Fontenot, Rosepine’s Calyn Brister and Fairview’s Rylee Cloud have reached double digits.

Barbe’s Halie Pappion and Nyjah Fontenot have combined for 15 homers.

Sulphur has hosted the state championship tournament for two decades. The first half of that stretch was dominated by pitching, slap-hitters and small-ball strategy featuring stolen bases, sacrifice bunts and squeeze plays.

Over the last decade or so, which coincides with the pitching rubber being moved back 3 feet, power hitting has become more prevalent.

Pitching and defense can still get it done at the top levels of the high school game. St. Amant won the 2019 Class 5A title by winning its two games in Sulphur by scores of 2-1 and 3-1. The 4A and 3A champs, West Ouachita and Brusly, also allowed only two runs each in Sulphur.

Mangham, the 2A champ, won its games 4-3 and 9-8. The Division V title game was an 18-15 slugfest.

There’s no magic formula for bringing home a state title, but chances are a team will need to win using more than one style during the playoffs to have a shot at the state crown.

A handful of area teams have shown the ability to do just that in the regular season and are in good position to reach Sulphur.

The area’s two 5A powers, Barbe and Sam Houston, are capable of winning in a variety of ways. Pappion and Broncos pitcher Lexi Dibbley are two-way stars who double as power hitters but can also dominate in the circle. The Bucs came up short in 2019, losing a heartbreaker to St. Amant in the championship game after a thrilling 7-6 semifinal win over Airline.

Fontenot and Kylie Dehart give the Bucs a pair of outstanding table-setters at the top of the lineup. The two speedsters also cover a lot of ground in the outfield. Madison Chretien, Alana Mark and Brenna Moncrief add pop and depth to the lineup.

Dibbley’s improvement in the circle over the course of the season has the Broncos entering the postseason on a high note with 11 wins in 12 games. In the last week Dibbley has a shutout win over Barbe and held South Beauregard scoreless in another game.

The Broncos offense received a boost last week with the return from injury of outfielder Erin Ardoin, who had multiple-hit games against Barbe and South Beauregard. She and leadoff hitter Kaylee Cooper are on-base machines for the Broncos, who scored 20 runs in beating Barbe and South Beauregard.

Barbe is third in the 5A power ratings with Sam Houston fifth. If that holds up they would avoid each other on the way to Sulphur, but late shifting in the ratings could set up a potential quarterfinal game between the two. They split a pair of regular-season games.

In other classes, Iowa, Rosepine and Merryville all occupy the third spot, in 3A and 1A, respectively. Iowa can mash the ball with a deep lineup led by Broussard, Ana Alexander and Karagan and Kamryn Howard.

Three of Iowa’s five losses have come at the hands of 5A teams. The other two were to South Beauregard, ranked eighth in 3A, and small school power Northside Christian.

Key for the Yellow Jackets will be minimizing defensive errors that lead to big innings. The Jackets gave up 20 runs in the losses to Northside Christian and South Beauregard, but are on a streak of five consecutive shutouts.

Rosepine ace Chloe Bennett has tossed seven consecutive shutouts and the Eagles have won 16 of their last 17 games. Rosepine has the pieces in place, but defensive lapses cost it in the 2019 playoffs, when it lost at home in the second round.

Merryville reached the quarterfinals as the 11th seed in 2019 but will be among the favorites this time around. The Panthers are undefeated against 1A competition with all five losses coming to teams from larger classifications.

The Panthers have good balance with leadoff hitter Alyssa Duncan leading the offense and Riley Dyson handling the pitching.

l

Warren Arceneaux covers high school athletics. Email him at

warceneaux@americanpress.com””Warren ArceneauxAmerican Press

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