Hannan softball team going for 3rd straight title

COVINGTON — A few things that wind up being “old hat” include cutting the lawn, the morning commute and paying taxes. You know those things are coming; consistently, invariably. They are things that no matter how hard you try, they grow old in quick order.

Then there are championships, and no matter how hard you try, playing for one, much less winning one, is something that never becomes “old hat.” The battle for a title against your peers — in the face of adversity and opposition — is something that gets the blood moving and makes young bodies strive for excellence.

Such is the case for Archbishop Hannan High School and its softball team. The team has had a history of success in its existence, which dates to the mid 1980s in St. Bernard Parish. But nothing can top what the Hawks softball team has accomplished the past few years. Hannan, now located in unincorporated Covington near the small town of Goodbe, is a Class 1A softball force.

The Hawks are coming off consecutive state championships, and they seem quite capable of making it a “hat trick” when they begin play at the LHSAA State Championships on Friday in Sulphur. Hannan (21-8), seeded fifth in the playoffs, will play fourth-seeded Central Catholic in a quarterfinal game at 4 p.m.

The 2013 softball season has been one of “ups and downs,” Hannan coach Becky Lambert said. The team played a challenging schedule, including a midseason stretch, where they dropped four of six games against higher-class teams, such as John Curtis, Hahnville, St. Amant and East Ascension.

The benefits have outweighed the positives of that stretch, however, as the team has jelled since, Lambert said.

“It was a big beating,” she said. “That mentally shook them a little bit. But, we were able to keep working and say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to see those kinds of teams all the time in 1A. It was part of the big picture.’ ”

There are other things working in the Hawks’ favor heading into Sulphur. The team has four seniors in the first four spots of the batting order (Brooke Laigast, Maddi Shelton, Kimberly Nilsson and Sydney Finch.) Shelton, the team’s pitcher, has held down that position since she was an eighth-grader. Nilsson blasted a momentum-changing home run in Hannan’s regional playoff against Opelousas Catholic. Finch and Laigast are part of the glue that holds together a team, which starts two eighth-graders.

And it doesn’t hurt that Hannan had a team batting average of .398 heading into the regional playoff, either.

“As a leader, you have to be able to step up and show the way,” Nilsson said. “We hit from one to nine in this lineup. We’re solid.”

The rest of Class 1A knows Hannan is good, as well. Laigast, the team’s second baseman, said she’s aware other teams are trying to knock them from their perch. After all, it’s been since her freshman season when Laigast and her three Hannan senior teammates lost in the state tournament at Sulphur’s Frasch Park.

“We have a big bull’s-eye on our back,” Laigast said. “We know that, and we know everyone’s coming after us.”

Finch, the Hawks first baseman and cleanup hitter, said that’s not a concern, however.

“When someone tells us we can’t do something, it makes us strive even more to do it.”

“It,” of course, is a third consecutive state championship. Lambert said if her team remains focused that goal is within reach.

“It’s hard,” she said of keeping a team focused when most of them already know what the experience of a state tournament is like. “What helps for us is the four seniors. They want to go out on top. They want to accept that trophy like their teammates before them. You never know. With the younger kids, when we’ll be able to get back to something like this. We’ve been very fortunate. And we’ve gotten more focused toward the end (of the season.)

“We’ve taken it, responded, adjusted. … The girls are willing to work after practice and extra on a Saturday or Sunday. It’s paying off.”