Here's what makes Pineville softball a contender for a state title

LaMar Gafford
Alexandria Town Talk

PINEVILLE — Last season’s run to the LHSAA softball tournament was an unexpected one for Pineville.

However, it served as the catalyst for this year’s start.

Currently one of the top two teams in Class 5A, the Lady Rebels (20-1)  defeated West Monroe 6-4 on March 17. West Monroe entered the game as the No. 4 team in the nation in USA TODAY Sports/NFCA’s High School Super 25 rankings.

“They’re very mature ball players,” Pineville coach Allison Frye said. “We have an older group of kids that have been leading us for years. I think last year lit a spark in them and gave them the confidence to realize they could play with anybody.”

Pineville closed out the second half of the season with a 15-4 record and reached the tournament for the first time since 2016

The Lady Rebels (20-1, 4-1 District 2-5A) have defeated eight teams that made it to the LHSAA state tournament last year.

Of those wins, three are against defending state champions North DeSoto (Class 4A), Jena (3A) and Calvary (Division IV).

Pineville infielder Bailey Henderson (4) catches a throw from the outfield against West Monroe last season.

Much of it is due to their lineup that has averaged 11.6 runs and has scored at least 10 runs in 14 games.

“This is the deepest team I’ve ever been involved with,” said Frye, who coached Menard to the Class 2A title in 2015 and runner-up finishes in 2016 and 2018. “We’ve got five kids sitting on the bench that could start for any school around here, so that’s been a little bit difficult putting those pieces together, but we’ve got a lot of people contributing that are.”

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Pineville’s offense starts with junior Bailey Henderson, who is batting .710 with six home runs and 22 RBIs.

“She’s being more selective (at the plate),” Frye said. “She’s leading our team in walks and her batting average is over .700. It’s insane, but she’s just being selective. A lot of teams don’t throw to her and this year she’s learned to not chase pitches.”

Pineville's Erin Cooper (22) makes contact with the ball during a game last season against West Monroe.

With Henderson being the spark, the Lady Rebels are a threat to produce runs no matter where in the batting order they are at.

“I feel like we’re hitting really, really well,” Henderson said. “We just have so many options, so it’s kind of hard to stop one of us.”

Against West Monroe, No. 9 hitter Meredith Mertens hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning that was the difference and put them in a tie with West Monroe and Alexandria Senior High atop District 2-5A.

Pineville pitcher Emily Collins throws a pitch against Hahnville in the Class 5A regionals last year.

Cleanup hitter Erin Cooper was another key contributor in that game as she drove in four runs with a pair of doubles — including a three-run double in the fifth to put Pineville up for good.

Cooper is batting .486 with two home runs and 32 RBIs.

“Knowing that (my teammates) can hit, if I can keep the score down, I know that they are going to put runs on the board,” senior pitcher Emily Collins said. “I just have to do my job and I know that they are going to do theirs.”

Collins had a strong second half last season and that is carrying over to 2022 as she has become one of the area’s best pitchers with a 13-1 record, 114 strikeouts and a 2.32 ERA.

“Last year, when we had all the injuries to our rotation, she had to take the bull by the horns and lead the team,” Frye said. “She did a great job in doing that and I think she grew a lot in that process. The team rallies behind her, she’s a great team player, a leader and is really somebody fun to play behind.”

With their offense and pitching, the Lady Rebels have what it takes to win a title — which would be their first since winning three straight from 1996-98.

“It would mean everything,” Collins said. “That’s our goal and that’s what we’re working for. It would be huge for next year’s team and a few years to come.”