Louisiana flavor leads Spring Hill to NAIA tourney

Out-of-state colleges have recruited Louisiana talent to gain prominence before. But the Spring Hill College softball team has put its own unique spin on things.

The Badgers (45-15), led by former St. Joseph’s Academy pitcher Caroline Sagrera and ex-Dutchtown High catcher Jade Bourgeois, begin play in the NAIA Softball National Championship Tournament at 9 a.m. Friday in Columbus, Ga.

“We’ve always recruited Louisiana players,” Spring Hill coach Alison Sellers-Cook said. “But a couple of years ago, we were able to sign some players — and then, through their connections with summer softball teams, we got others who were interested in the kind of education Spring Hill has to offer, along with the chance to play softball.

“Everything really has come together for us. The players from Louisiana are a big part of what we’ve done.”

Spring Hill, a Catholic college located in Mobile, Ala., is in the NAIA national tourney for the first time in a decade and just one year after compiling an 18-28 record.

Bourgeois and Sagrera have played lead roles for the 10th-seeded Badgers, who face Southern States Athletic Conference rival and No. 7 seed Auburn-Montgomery (44-10) in its first game at the double-elimination tourney Friday.

Bourgeois, a sophomore, leads Spring Hill in hitting with a .400 average. She set a school record for doubles with 22 and leads the NAIA in that category. Bourgeois also has three home runs and a team-high 36 runs batted in despite missing offseason workouts following hip surgery.

“I wasn’t cleared to play until right before we started practice,” Bourgeois said. “Maybe the time off helped. But the big difference for me this year is that I’m seeing the ball so much better at the plate.

“We knew our team had a lot of potential, but I don’t think anyone else other than us thought we could do what we’ve done. We’ve really come together as a team, and we’re playing well.”

Sagrera, a freshman, has a 35-9 record with a 1.34 ERA and an incredible 430 strikeouts in 298 innings with 74 walks. Spring Hill got a sign of things to come when Sagrera tossed a no-hitter in her second collegiate game, a 1-0 victory over Huntington College.

Going into the NAIA tourney, Sagrera already holds Spring Hill single-season school records for wins, strikeouts and shutouts. She earned SSAC Freshman of the Year and Pitcher of the Year honors and is among those being considered for the NAIA National Pitcher of the Year award, Sellers-Cook said.

“The biggest adjustment for me getting used to the college strike zone,” Sagrera said. “The strike zone is smaller, which is why I walked more batters in the beginning. It changed my approach. Now I just go after hitters. I came in expecting to perform well. I’ve worked to improve since the season started. My teammates have confidence in me and I have confidence in them to make plays.”

Several other Louisiana players also play key roles for the Badgers. Two former Hahnville High players, Elise deBruler (.294) and Taylor Webre (.290), also rank amog the team’s top hitters. deBruler plays first base and has 31 RBIs, while Webre, a center fielder, has 28.

Former Teurlings Catholic player Shea Blanchard is hitting .273 with six home runs and 32 RBIs and plays right field. Taylor Lahasky, who prepped at Catholic-New Iberia, is an infielder who started 32 games.

Two New Orleans players, Kathryn Ingles of Ursuline Academy and Academy of Our Lady’s Sarah Bolotte, also play reserve roles. Both are pitcher-infielders.

“It’s an an exciting time for our program,” Sellers-Cook said. “We’re definitely the underdog. We’re saying, ‘Why not us?’ ”