Fontainebleau sets sights on state title

MANDEVILLE — The Fontainebleau High softball team had just clinched a berth in the Class 5A State tournament, and coach Chris Nelson was giving interviews to the media after the game. That’s when a young fan sneaked behind the coach and doused him with a cooler full of ice water.

Nelson wouldn’t mind taking a few more celebratory ice baths beginning Friday, when his team takes the field in the quarterfinals at Sulphur. But one thing he doesn’t want to see happen is an opposing team throw cold water on his team’s chances of winning its first state championship in the sport.

It’s the deepest squad Nelson has had in his time at Fontainebleau and certainly his most experienced. Six seniors start for the Bulldogs, who swept through District 6-5A with an undefeated record and sport a 25-4 overall record. The team batting average is .348, and the defense has allowed less than 2½ runs per game this year. They didn’t struggle with either St. Scholastica or Northshore in their first two playoff games and seem primed for a run deeper into the playoffs.

Just ask Northshore coach Marian Eades, whose team lost to Fontainebleau 5-2 last Thursday — a Bulldogs’ win that earned Nelson the ice bath.

“They’re loaded,” Eades said. “From top to bottom, they hit the ball. They play good defense. They don’t have many weaknesses, for sure.”

Nelson is aware of his team’s talent and said expectations have been high for the Bulldogs since before the season began. That happens when three quarters of your starting lineup has been to the playoffs four straight years, not to mention being part of four district championship teams in that same time. But despite its success, Fontainebleau couldn’t make it past the regionals in any of those seasons.

Things have changed.

“There was so much pressure on this team to knock down the door and get on to the state tournament,” Nelson said. “This team has had expectations from Day One. Not just from me, but from the community and the area.”

Fontainebleau, so far, has lived up to the hype. The team’s only losses came to Belle Chasse, West Monroe, Hahnville and John Curtis. As for its district foes, Fontainebleau faced little adversity. They won District 6-5A by five games and outscored opponents 115-21 during the undefeated march to the district title. The senior leadership provided by Amanda Lassus, Megan Meyer, Maddie Pence, Gabby Perez, Olivia Wineski and Ava Zimmerman has been key to the success.

“Once we clinched district with two or three weeks left, we started to move our goals up a bit,” Nelson said. “Of course, we wanted an undefeated season, but (going to Sulphur), this is what we wanted.”

The biggest challenge now, Nelson said, is keeping his team focused but loose.

“We can’t go out tight or tense,” he said. “We have to be open and honest about the importance of each game, and we still have to perform. You can’t do that if you’re tight or nervous. So we put them in enough situations that when the pressure is on, it’s not new pressure. It’s something they’ve felt before, and they can handle it.”

Once such “situation” came midway through the season when Fontainebleau traveled to Sulphur to play in a spring tournament at Frasch Park — the same place the state tournament will be held. The Bulldogs went 2-1 in the tournament, but more importantly, they got a feel for the atmosphere. It was an invaluable experience, said Lassus, the team’s catcher who leads Fontainebleau with 11 home runs this season.

“There’s excitement, and I’m sure we may be a bit jittery,” the LSU-Eunice commitment said. “But since we’ve been there, we know what it’s like. It’s not going to be intimidating.”

Savannah Folse, a sophomore who leads the Bulldogs with a .506 batting average, agreed.

“We’ve played there,” she said. “We’re familiar with the turf infield and with the feel of the park. We just have to treat it like it’s another game.”

Patience remains a virtue, Lassus said, but so does the hunger to go where no Fontainebleau softball team has gone before — all the way to a state title.

“We want to go all the way,” she said. “We keep building up to the next game. Hopefully we can get the ring. That’s what we’re working for.”

Nelson said it’s possible given the makeup of this team.

“We are not satisfied by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “We can play with anybody in 5A. We feel we are good enough offensively to hang with anyone. We’ve faced some of the best pitchers in the state. Defensively, we’re solid at all nine positions. And in the circle, we’re two deep with Shelby Rome and Savannah Folse. We feel like we’re built for three games in two days, which is what you have to do to win it all.”