One community, two state softball titles as LaSalle, Jena celebrate together

LaMar Gafford
Alexandria Town Talk

LaSalle and Jena might be separated by a 20-minute drive, but softball brought them together Saturday at the LHSAA state softball tournament.

The two LaSalle Parish schools celebrated state championships within 15 minutes of each other after years of coming close with tough losses in Sulphur.

“We’ve worked all year since I was little,” Jena junior Tori Shirley said. “For the seniors, this is a way to go out. The heart, the soul, the dedication, blood, sweat and tears, everyday fighting for each other and not just yourself. That’s what we live by.”

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After winning Class 1A in 2017 over Oak Grove, LaSalle’s trips to Sulphur in 2018 and 2019 ended in runner-up finishes despite being led by current UL Lafayette freshman Taylor Snow, who established herself as one of the top pitchers in the area.

While the 2020 season was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, LaSalle (26-7) prepared for a fourth encounter with Oak Grove with a new pitcher – junior Landri Campbell.

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As Campbell progressed, so did the Lady Tigers, with 14 wins in their last 15 games – including a 10-7 win over Montgomery on April 6 to claim the District 3-1A title. In that game, Campbell struck out seven batters.

LaSalle junior Landri Campbell (12) tosses a pitch against Merryville in the Class 1A semifinals.

“We’ve been really working hard the last three weeks and really working on Oak Grove,” LaSalle coach Derek White said. “We understood that they were probably the best team in the state and that we had to hit the ball to win.”

In the championship game, LaSalle spotted Campbell a 6-0 lead before she threw her first pitch. She did the rest, striking  out eight batters to earn Most Outstanding Player honors.

“Where we started as a team and ended as a team is completely different and she’s the same exact thing,” White said. “She’s a completely different pitcher than she was in the first two or three weeks of season, so I give her all the credit for all the hard work that she did. It’s tough to follow a Taylor Snow, but she did it and she’s a state champion pitcher.”

While the Lady Tigers celebrated their third title, Jena (25-8) was looking for its first title after numerous trips to Sulphur in the last decade.

Jena senior Janasia Jones tosses the ball back to the pitcher during the Lady Giants' semifinal game against Sterlington Friday.

All season long, the Lady Giants showed how resilient they were after winning eight of their games in the fifth inning or later thanks to performances by Shirley and senior Janasia Jones with timely hitting.

During the playoffs, the duo combined to hit .393 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs.

“I try to tell them every day that it’s softball and it’s fun,” Lady Giants coach Sarah Roark said. “It’s supposed to be fun and no matter what happens, it’s not about what I did wrong, it’s about what I’m going to do right next time, so we’ve been preaching that all year. It’s sinking in finally with them and they’re fighting for each other.”

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Saturday was no different as Shirley tied the Class 3A title game against Iowa at 9-9 with a grand slam in the fourth inning, while Jones put the Lady Giants ahead for good with a two-run home run, her second of the contest.

“Some of them were down during the game, but we picked ourselves back up and fought for each other,” Jones said. “I’m glad that our girls fought.”

Jena and LaSalle's softball teams won titles Saturday at Sulphur's Frasch Park, bringing both the Class 3A and Class 1A title back to LaSalle Parish.

Making the moment more special was LaSalle celebrating with Jena after the win as both teams posed with their newly won titles.

“Same parish representing, that’s the way it is,” Jena junior Tori Shirley said. “I’m glad for the community and I’m glad I have my whole family here.”