Pitching wins championships. All five teams return their top arms in 2018.

Believe it or not, we’re inching closer and closer to the high-school softball season, and all signs point to it being another tremendous year for Ascension Parish.

Last season brought so many unknowns. Every team was faced with huge question marks during the offseason.

Ascension Catholic was returning most of their roster from a team that reached the state semifinals, but their two most important pieces in pitcher Julia Beck and leading hitter Rae’Shawn Melancon were both gone.

Dutchtown was losing a four-year starter at pitcher in Southeastern signee Ali McCoy, along with several other key starters.

East Ascension had a new leader in Katie Ocmand, who was a first-year head coach. To complicate things, she would take over a team that had to replace their entire starting lineup, after parting ways with four players that went on to play college softball.

Even St. Amant was faced with some uncertainty after having to replace 14-year head coach Scott Nielson.

Even though a proven winner in Amy Pitre took over, they were still lacking consistency in the circle.

Things are quite different in 2018.

Many youngsters had to be baptized by fire last season. Now, they’re a year wiser and have a year of experience under their belts.

Every team in the parish brings back their nucleus. Every team brings back multiple all-district players.

It sets up what should be an extremely competitive parish softball season.

It looks like District 6-1A will be Ascension Catholic’s to lose once again. Despite the youth from the circle last season, they still went undefeated in league play and reached the state quarterfinals.

The only player the Lady Bulldogs lose is Carson Dunn. Everyone else is back—including dangerous hitters in reigning district MVP Ceily Grisaffe, Bailey Acosta, Alicia Canatella, Lauren Landry and Isabelle Abadie.

Emily Beck and Angelle Theriot fought through growing pains as freshmen pitchers last year. Now, they’re primed for breakout sophomore seasons.

But parish rival Ascension Christian will be no pushover in the district.

The Lady Lions will have a new head coach in 2018. After years of serving on the Dutchtown staff under head coach Nancy Ensminger, George Gutierrez is now the skipper at Ascension Christian.

He has a lot of talent to work with as Layla Thompson and Hallie Dupre both return, two players that hit .500 last season.

Also, two-year starting pitcher Maddie Gautreau is back. She won 12 games last season.

District 5-5A should be interesting.

East Ascension isn’t ready to compete for a district championship just yet, but the Lady Spartans should be vastly improved from last season.

After replacing their entire starting lineup, they went just 9-22 in 2017, but now, they bring almost everyone back.

Five all-district players will lead the change, including Rachel Ducote, Grace Bagwell, Brynnen Gautreau and Meagan Ross.

Also, Erin Nicol will have a second year as their starting pitcher.

If someone is going to challenge St. Amant for the district crown, it’s going to be Dutchtown.

They had many freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup last year, and they still managed to go 19-14 and reach the second round of the playoffs.

Almost everyone will be back in 2018.

Carly Turner won 13 games and was first-team all-district as a freshman pitcher. Paige Patterson hit .531 and was also first-team all-district as a freshman.

Both return for the Lady Griffins in 2018, along with other starters like Danae Lowe, Hannah Martin and Baylee Bourgeois.

St. Amant did lose two huge sluggers in district and Parish MVP Abby McKey and Pamela Carbo.

However, they still have LSU signee Taylor Tidwell, along with Brooke Romano and a senior in Jadyn Rumfellow that hit .524 in 2017.

They will also have arguably the best pitcher in the parish in sophomore Alyssa Romano.

Romano turned into the team’s ace as a freshman and helped them win 21 of their final 22 regular season games, on her way to being named Parish Pitcher of the Year.

Pitching wins championships. All five teams return their top arms in 2018.

The youth and inexperience from the circle was the theme for Ascension’s softball teams heading into last season. It’s the reason why some of the squads struggled, at times.

It won’t be a theme this year. Look for each team to be strong from the circle. Look for each team to flourish.