Here comes softball

Kyle Riviere
Alicia Canatella returns for Ascension Catholic. Photo by Kyle Riviere.

Every softball season in Ascension Parish is exciting.

The area is a hotbed for talent, and that shows itself consistently every year as almost all of the parish’s teams make the playoffs, and usually, multiple Ascension squads will reach the state tournament come April.

It was just two years ago that three of the four teams that made the Class 5A semifinals were from the parish. Just last year, two Ascension squads made the Fast Pitch 56.

This alone will increase the anticipation of the 2017 softball season, but the excitement level has doubled this year, as a result of all the flux that took place during the offseason.

Three of the parish’s softball heavyweights will have new head coaches in 2017. One is a rookie, and the other two are proven winners with stacked resumes.

The dominos all began to fall when long-time St. Amant head coach Scott Nielson decided to walk away less than a week after the Lady Gators fell in last year’s quarterfinals.

Nielson won four state titles in his 14 seasons as the St. Amant head coach.

The Lady Gators brought in a more than capable successor in former East Ascension head coach Amy Pitre.

Pitre coached the Lady Spartans for nine years and had led them to the state tournament in five of the past seven years. Most notably, in 2015, East Ascension reached the semifinals.

With the tremendous talent that St. Amant returns, combined with Pitre’s winning pedigree, the Gators will once again have a legit opportunity to win it all.

They return the most experienced pitcher in the parish in Renee Firmin, and with the bats they bring back, they should put up big points all season.

Having to face Taylor Tidwell, Abby McKey, Jadyn Rumfellow and McKenzie King will be a tall task for any pitcher.

It’ll be weird to see Pitre wearing the black and gold and coaching against East Ascension.

When the two teams do meet, the Lady Spartans will be led by Katie Ocmand. This is Ocmand’s first year as a head coach.

Though she has no head coaching experience, she knows a lot about winning. As a player, she won a state title at Lutcher and a national title at LSU-Eunice.

It will be a baptism by fire for her. In her first job, she has a rebuilding project ahead of her.

East Ascension just parted ways with 12 seniors and virtually their entire starting lineup. This included Jessie Watts, Claire Weinberger, Verlencia Jackson and Bria Aikens—all players that have gone on to play college softball.

The only Lady Spartan that returns with significant varsity experience will be Rachel Ducote.

Dutchtown will return players that had breakout seasons as first-year starters—players like Hannah Martin and Kennedy Page. They also bring back seasoned veterans like Blayne Pence.

However, the million-dollar question is: “How will they replace Ali McCoy?” The Southeastern signee was a four-year starter and All-State performer from the circle. She was also their best hitter.

Another team that will be interesting to watch is Ascension Catholic.

The Lady Bulldogs have made it to the state tournament four years in a row. Last season, they reached the semifinals.

During the offseason, three-year head coach Brandi Manry resigned. This gave way to her former head coach Don Henry taking her place.

This will be Henry’s second stint at the school. In his previous stay, he coached for 14 years and led the Lady Bulldogs to three state titles and one runner-up finish.

The good news for Ascension Catholic this season will be that they return six all-district players from last year. This includes first-teamers like Abigail Landry, Bailey Acosta and Meredith Medine.

They only lose two starters.

The bad news is that those two starters have meant so much to their team over the past four years.

Julia Beck was their MVP from the circle, and Rae’Shaun Melancon was their MVP from the plate. Both players were first-team All-State.

The Lady Bulldogs will have the experienced bats to try to make up for Melancon’s absence, but it will be interesting to see who will emerge as their top pitcher.