CLINTON, La. — After four hours of grueling softball were completed on a scorching 90-degree day, a AAA State Fast Pitch Softball Champion was crowned here Friday.
The North Champion Bayou Academy Lady Colts had to take their red plated, runner-up trophy with sadness and hug each other on the field in tears as their successful season come to a heartbreaking end with two consecutive losses to the South Champion Silliman Institute Lady Wildcats to close out best-of-three series and the season.
The Lady Colts lost the first game 4-3 and the second game 12-1. Bayou finished its year at 29-6, while Silliman won its third consecutive state championship and finished its year at 36-4-3.
In the two games combined, Bayou stranded 14 total runners with nine of them in scoring position. The Lady Colts also committed seven errors in the field. Silliman stranded 10 runs with seven in scoring position and committed six errors in the field. Bayou actually out hit Silliman 10-9 in game two but Silliman out hit Bayou 12-3 in the third and deciding game.
“Against them we knew we had to play flawless,” Bayou head coach Lauren LaSuzzo said. “Every time that they had runners on, we would make errors and they would take advantage of that. We can’t do that. We out hit them (in the first game) but we made more errors than they did and they capitalized on that. You can’t make errors and you have to score runs.”
In the first game, Bayou had its share of chances to cash in scoring opportunities and didn’t by leaving nine runners on base with five of them in scoring position. The Lady Colts had two runners on base with no outs in the top of the sixth but couldn’t score. Bayou’s defense also committed four errors in the contest. Silliman committed just one error and took advantage of Bayou’s mistakes to take a 4-0 lead after six innings with all four runs coming with two outs.
Bayou tried to get back in the contest in the top of the seventh as Emma Short and Mary Ansley Chrestman hit back-to-back singles with two outs. Madison Jenkins closed the gap with a three-run homer to make the score 4-3. Jenkins’ shot wasn’t enough as the next batter flied out to third to end the game and even the series at 1-1 to force a third and deciding game.
The final game was one the Bayou fans were ready for as they made their presence known with their loud cheers and cowbells ringing to support their players.
In the final game, the Lady Colts got something going as Laila Byas tagged an infield single to lead off the top of the first. Mary Scott Lofton dropped a sacrifice bunt to move Byas over to second and Short roped a single to put runners at the corners. Byas was able to put the Lady Colts on the scoreboard as she swiped home on a double steal that sent Short to second with one out. The Lady Colts, however, couldn’t get any more runs across as they held a slim 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the first.
The Lady Wildcats answered right back in the bottom of the first. Cayley Pelt tagged a lead off single and Tori Mac reached base on another Bayou error to give the Lady Wildcats two runners on with no outs. After the next batter was retired, Kennedy Carruth tagged a ground ball that drove in a run and Alex Jackson and Loren Higginbotham each tagged RBI-singles to put the Lady Wildcats up 3-1.
After the first, things went down hill for Bayou as Silliman scored six runs in the bottom of the third and three more run in the fourth to take a 12-1 advantage.
Bayou had an opportunity to score in the top of the fifth as the first two runners reached base due to errors. The Lady Colts eventually loaded the bases with two outs but couldn’t score.
Silliman head coach Trae Weaver said the series featured the best of the best.
“We knew they had a really solid team,” Weaver said about Bayou. “Lauren does a great job with their kids, and we knew they were going to be tough. We went up there with our backs against the wall and their pitcher (Jenkins) pretty much shut us down. We got focused on trying to do the little things right.
“It worked out. Obviously, they came back and hit a home run to make it a 4-3 game. It’s a momentum shift and they scored one in the first in the next game, but we just went and got a piece of it and went back at it. Hats off to them. Their pitcher did a great job all week. She’s hit the ball. They’re tough. The two best teams met in the state championship, which is how it should be.”
Weaver said his girls just used their strengths to their advantage at the plate.
“We’ve got a lot of team speed and got some power,” Weaver said. “Our kids had been struggling a little bit and got a little tight but we finally put some people in motion. We had some hits come through, and it’s all about timing.”
Carruth earned the win in both games as she pitched a combined 12 innings and gave up four runs on 13 hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. She threw 158 total pitches on the day.
Jenkins suffered the loss in both games as she pitched 8 1/3 innings and gave up 16 runs on 19 hits with five strikeouts and three walks. She threw 148 pitches on the day.
Byas pitched the last inning in relief in each game for the Lady Colts and yielded two hits but didn’t walk a batter in 1 2/3 scoreless innings of work. Out of her 19 pitches, 13 were strikes.
“Laila did great,” LaSuzzo said. “She just spotted it up and got ground balls. That’s heart right there. She came into some tough situations and put the fire out. I’m really, really proud of her.”
On offense for Bayou in both games, Byas went 4-for-7 with a run scored, Short went 3-for-6 with a run scored and Jenkins went 2-for-6 with a three homer to lead the way.
On offense for Silliman, Jackson went 4-for-6 including a double with three runs and three RBIs, Pelt went 4-for-7 with two runs and two RBIs, Higginbotham went 3-for-6 with two RBIs and a run, Ryleigh McManus went 3-for-6 with two runs and a RBI and Mac went 3-for-7 to spearhead the Wildcats.
Bayou only had one senior this season with the rest of the team expected to return next year.
“I knew that we had the athletes,” LaSuzzo said. “We had some holes to fill and we had some positions to fill, but I knew we had the athletes to do it. God willing and everybody comes back healthy and strong, we’ll be back here next year. I think they’ll remember this feeling and use it as fuel to their fire.”