Solid pitching will be a key ingredient to the recipe for victory for the three local-area Class 5A teams participating in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s State Softball Tournament that begins Friday at Sulphur’s Frasch Park with quarterfinal games.
St. Amant senior ace Kasey Nielson (20-1, 1.08 ERA, 120 strikeouts) should go the distance for the Gators, while Live Oak and Dutchtown may use two different pitchers.
Fourth-seeded Live Oak (24-5) plays No. 5 Fontainebleau at 2 p.m., second-seeded St. Amant (26-2) plays No. 10 Parkway at 4 p.m. and sixth-seeded Dutchtown (21-7) battles No. 19 Sam Houston at 6 p.m.
Sam Houston pitcher Baylee Corbello, an LSU softball signee and the 2012 Farm Bureau/Miss Softball award winner, is considered by many to be the top pitcher of the teams in the tournament.
“I haven’t seen quite as many dominant pitchers in the state this year,” Live Oak coach Michelle Morris said. “We like going with two pitchers because the hitters are so good and make adjustments the more times they face the same pitcher.”
Live Oak freshman righthander Savannah Hall (14-1, 1.76 ERA, 105 strikeouts) will start and sophomore left-hander Amanda Holliday (5-2, 0.76 ERA, 67 strikeouts) often closes for the Eagles.
“Savannah Hall has a great curveball and a good changeup,” Morris said. “Amanda Holliday is a nice change of pace for us. Having two fresh pitchers is a great advantage.”
Dutchtown will start senior Aleah Craighton (16-4) and freshman Ali McCoy (5-2) should see action. That duo combined to toss a three-hitter in a 5-1 regional road win over H.L. Bourgeois.
“I like how our two pitchers are working together,” said Dutchtown coach Nancy Ensminger, who like Morris was a college pitcher herself. “They’re both right-handers, but their forms are different. Their changeups and the movement of the ball is different. Aleah has more speed. Ali McCoy really did a good job in a loss to St. Amant.”
Dutchtown has a strong offense with a team batting average of .361. Craighton leads the squad at .458.
“Playing good defense behind a pitcher is another key thing,” Ensminger said.
Morris said she encourages her pitchers to throw low balls to prevent giving up homers. “The high ball can be effective for strikeouts,” Morris said. “The danger is pitching a hanging ball that can be taken yard.”
Dutchtown has beaten its two playoff foes by a 16-2 margin, Live Oak has a 13-3 advantage and St. Amant has a 22-0 margin.
St. Amant, winners of 26 straight games, has 12 shutouts, with Nielson in the circle in nine of those. St. Amant has allowed one or fewer runs in 14 of its past 15 games.
Kasey Nielson, a Southeastern Louisiana University softball signee who bats .324, has tossed two one-hitters in the playoffs. Both hits were infield singles.
“Kasey spins the ball well, and her ball moves around,” said Scott Nielson, St. Amant’s coach and Kasey’s father. “She’s a ground ball/pop up type pitcher. Her style is different.
“A good pitcher has got to hit their spots, and study the hitters they are facing. Pitchers can’t be predictable and should keep the hitters off balance.
“Hitting has evolved too. Many players play year round. Teams do a lot of scouting reports and have film study. There are a lot of tools available for hitters.”