Here's a look at story numbers 1 through 10 in the Livingston Parish News' Top 10 Stories of 2021 for sports:

Anacoco vs. Holden SB state championship trophy run

Holden softball players race to claim the trophy for their fourth-straight state championship during the Class B state championship game on Saturday, May 1, 2021.

No. 1 Holden softball repeats as Class B state champion

SULPHUR -- Holden’s softball team came into the state tournament with a chip on its collective shoulder.

Partly because of that, Lady Rockets left Sulphur as Class B state champions again.

The Lady Rockets put together an eight-run third inning to spark an 11-6 win over Anacoco at Frasch Park on Saturday.

“There are no words,” Holden coach Linzey Bowers said after the Lady Rockets won their fourth straight title after last season’s tournament wasn’t held because of COVID-19. “These kids were battle-tested, and they showed up and they gave it everything they’ve got. They deserve every ounce of the champion title. They’re competitors. They’re winners, and they’re champions.”

Anacoco led 3-1 heading into the bottom of the third inning, when Holden broke the game open, getting eight hits.

Gracie Duffy, who was the Class B title game Outstanding Player, led off with a double to left, and Kacey Breithaupt singled to third before Anna Hutchinson reached on a bunt single that went over the head of Anacoco pitcher Bailey Davis to cut the lead to 3-2.

Olivia Barnes followed with a bunt single to score Breithaupt, knotting the score at 3-3.

“It’s crazy because if you look at our offense, we don’t really bunt,” Bowers said after picking up her 100th career win. “I think the scouting report says that, but we had to change it up. We had to get some balls in play. We had to create some momentum. Anacoco was in defense to take away the big hit, so we adjusted our game plan early, we hung some runs on, and then we started swinging.”

From there, Ava Rousell hit a hard single past first, scoring two runs to put the Lady Rockets ahead 5-3.

Taylor Barfield reached on a fielder’s choice bunt, Maddie McDonald reached on an error, and Kamrynn Ouber walked to load the bases, setting up Taylor Barfield’s sacrifice fly for another run.

Duffy followed with a two-run single to left field for an 8-3 advantage.

“I just had to get a hit,” said Duffy, who went 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs, said of the start to the inning. “Nothing was going on, and we didn’t score that last inning. I had to do my job there or that wouldn’t have happened, and we wouldn’t have scored that many runs. We were just trying to get baserunners to score because that’s what we needed.”

Breithaupt’s double past third scored Duffy, pushing the lead to 9-3.

“That was our inning,” said Barnes, who went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI. “You have to have at least one big inning, or you have to consistently score every inning. We weren’t being super consistent every inning, so we had to come up with a big inning, go ahead and just kill their fire – put it out.”

“It means a lot,” Barnes said of winning the state title. “Every state championship’s important, but senior year, it feels the most important to you. I’m really proud of our team.”

Anacoco scratched for a run in the fourth Jaiden Craft’s grounder after Reagan Stanley led off with a double and Brooklyn Bryant walked.

Holden padded the lead on Douglas’ solo home run to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning.

“I knew she was coming at me first-pitch change-up because that’s how she was every batter, so I got up the box, and I knew to sit back and when I saw it, turn on it and drive it,” Douglas said.

Bryant reached on a one-out walk, and Ava Davis on an error before Craft’s grounder scored a run. Davis later scored on a wild pitch, making the score 10-6.

“They were fighting every single pitch, and they made some great plays and they had some timely hits,” Bowers said. “That’s what you expect in a championship game. That’s a championship program. That’s a young team, well-coached. They deserve to be here, and they played like they deserve to be here.”

Holden got its last run in the bottom of the sixth when Taylor Barfield drew a one-out walk and scored on Ouber’s single to left one out later.

That enabled Douglas to retire the side in the top of the seventh to seal the Lady Rockets’ title.

Anacoco scored first, getting two runs as Davis reached on an error and Craft on a fielder’s choice. Davis’ single to left drove in a run, and Anna Vinson had a sacrifice fly to score Craft.

Holden picked up a run in the bottom of the inning after Douglas walked, Duffy singled to left, and Breithaupt moved the runners on a sacrifice bunt. Hutchinson reached on an error to score courtesy runner Raievah Craddock.

“I don’t know what it is about that first inning,” Bowers said. “We give teams a chance. We’re not woken up yet. I think every single playoff game this year, we went down in the top of the first inning, and these kids have answered in the bottom of the first inning. That’s what great teams do. They were determined.”

Douglas gave up six hits, six runs, walked four and struck out three in a complete-game win.

“We all knew that no one wanted us to win today because they thought that we couldn’t do it, so I just knew coming into today, I had to be as focused as I could and it just be me and (catcher) Kamrynn (Ouber),” Douglas said.

Breithaupt went 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI, while Hutchinson was 2-for-3 with two RBIs.

“Everyone was rooting against us, and we showed them,” Duffy said. “We pushed through it all.”

Brian Thomas signs with LSU

Walker High star wide receiver Brian Thomas puts on an LSU hat after signing his letter of intent on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.

No. 2 Walker's Brian Thomas signs with LSU

WALKER -- Brian Thomas is staying home.

Walker High’s star wide receiver and one of the top football prospects in the state will head to LSU this fall after signing his letter of intent on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

With his parents and sister by his side, Thomas officially joined the LSU Class of 2021 and put on a purple “TIGERS” hat as family members, friends, teammates, teachers, and fellow students cheered him on.

The ceremony was held inside Walker High’s gym, where a video montage of Thomas’ football and basketball highlights was played before Thomas announced his decision.

“This is such a blessing,” Thomas told reporters after the signing. “I’ve been playing football since I was 6 years old, and this is what I’ve been dreaming of.”

The four-star recruit had been quiet regarding his college selection in recent weeks, even pushing his signing date to nearly a week after National Signing Day, Thomas had listed three SEC schools — Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M — as his finalists.

In the end, Thomas opted to join a class that 247 Sports ranks third nationally, behind Alabama and Ohio State. 

Thomas is Louisiana’s No. 4 prospect in the Class of 2021 and is ranked No. 88 nationally overall and No. 13 among wide receivers, according to 247 Sports.

The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Thomas finished his senior season with 30 receptions for 507 yards and seven touchdowns, along with four rushes for 70 yards and two touchdowns this season. That followed an explosive junior season, in which Thomas racked up 75 catches for 1,272 yards with 17 touchdowns.

During his career at Walker High, Thomas was a two-time Livingston Parish Offensive MVP in addition to a District 4-5A Offensive MVP. He earned All-State honorable mention three years in a row.

Thomas also made his mark on the basketball court, helping lead the Wildcats to their first state championship en route to being named Class 5A title-game MVP as a freshman.

2021 Parish Track Meet Maurepas' Madelyn Aime

Maurepas' Madelyn Aime, here at the parish track meet last month, cleared 10 feet, seven inches to win the Class B pole vault title at the state meet Thursday.

No. 3 Maurepas' Madelyn Aime sets Class B record while winning state pole vault title

Don’t look now, but there’s another Aime making a mark in the pole vault.

Madelyn Aime, the sister of former Maurepas pole vaulter Kameron Aime, recorded a new Class B record in the event at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Class 1A/B/C State Meet at LSU’s Bernie Moore Track Stadium on Thursday.

Madelyn Aime’s vault of 10 feet, seven inches, broke the record of 10-2 set by Bell City’s Heidi Zaunbrecher in 2013.

“It was good,” Aime said of the day. “We had a good tailwind, which inspired me to jump higher, because the wind always takes me high. I love the competition, and it was just a fun day.”

One of the concerns for Aime at Thursday’s meet was not recording a height after missing her first two attempts at her first height at regionals. Her first attempt at the state meet came at 9-6, which she missed on her first attempt but made on her second.

“I’m terrified of no-heighting,” Aime said. “I just have to tell myself that I’m going to get over this, and I know I can get over this because I’ve done it multiple times.”

“I was just terrified,” Aime said of missing her first jump. “I just had to keep telling myself that I could do it, and I know I could do it, and I did it.”

Castor’s Katelyn Urquidez was second with a mark of eight feet, meaning Aime was the lone competitor left in the event to set the mark.

Aime also surpassed her previous personal record of 10-6.

“I my mind, once I’ve cleared one height and I know that I’ve got the win, I just have fun with it,” she said. “If I get the record, I get it.”

“I was so excited for myself,” she said. “I’m really happy for it.”

Maurepas’ Kyle Camardelle was sixth in the pole vault (8-5.5), while the Wolves’ Joseph Lemoine was seventh in the javelin (107-2).

For Holden, the state meet wasn’t about team standings but more about individuals showing improvement.

“We knew kind of going in, we were going to have some over-the-top good numbers in order for us to … get on the podium,” Holden coach Landon DuBois said. “We only sent four kids, and none of those four had ever been to state before in a track event. You’re talking about some green kids who are probably going to be a little overwhelmed by the moment. I think track is kind of a special thing in that it’s one of the few events where you almost can’t get any coaching done when you’re there because they’re out on the field, and you’re stuck up the stands. For kids who have never been there, that’s kind of a tough deal. We were just hoping the kids were going to go out there and compete, have a good time. They went out and set personal bests, and we’re expecting most of them to be back again next year and do even better.”

Shelbi Stafford was seventh in the 100-meter hurdles (20.78), posting her best time of the year, while eighth-grader Alyson Fletcher was sixth in the javelin (102-01), her best throw of the season.

“She got seventh,” DuBois said of Stafford. “I think coming in, she really wasn’t even expecting to be a state qualifier. She got out there and kind of shocked us at regionals. She worked hard over the last week to better her time by two-tenths of a second. In a week’s time, that’s putting in some work right there. We fully expect to see her back next year.”

“She’s throwing at about 100 feet right now,” DuBois said of Fletcher. “We’re fully expecting her to be 10 to 20 feet better next year when she’s got some more under her belt and fix some of her mechanics a little bit.”

Gabrielle Sharp was eighth in the discus (73-04) in her first state meet.

“She tends to throw kind from a standing scoot position,” DuBois said of Sharp. “She doesn’t really do the spin or anything like that, but she knew going into this that she was going to have to take a risk. She was going to have to attempt the spin in order to try to get on the podium. He best throws were in the 80s. In order to get on the podium, she was going to have to be at like 95, so she kind of went out there, and we’re super proud of the fact that she was willing to take a risk to try to win.”

The Rockets’ Steve Garcia was ninth in the javelin (103-2).

“His best throw of the year was 110,” Dubois said of Garcia. “He didn’t get that today. He might have been a little overwhelmed by the moment, but he picked up a javelin for the first time before we started our district meet, so he’s only been practicing about three weeks. For him to make the state meet is a big deal. He’s motivated to go back again, so he’ll be practicing that through basketball season. We’re going to get him out there, let him throw some while he’s working on his jump shot.”

No. 4 Doyle finishes as state runner-up in three sports

Doyle Lake Arthur Presleigh Scott

Doyle's Presleigh Scott and Deonna Brister battle for a ball during Friday's Class 2A championship game.

Three teams from Doyle reached the state championship game in three different sports in 2021, with the school finishing as the runner-up in girls basketball, softball and baseball.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

The Lady Tigers went into the season intent on defending the state title they won in 2020 and entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in Class 2A with a 17-game win streak.

Doyle carried that momentum into the playoffs, cruising past Oakdale, 82-20 in the first round and 76-33 over Avoyelles in the second round. Presleigh Scott scored 43 as Doyle topped No. 9 Rayville 86-71 to return to the state tournament.

In the semifinals at Southeastern’s University Center, Doyle trailed Avoyelles Public Charter before rallying for a 65-61 win behind 31 points from Elise Jones with Scott in foul trouble.

“It did not come easy,” White said. “We did not play our team’s best basketball. We had players step up and do a really great job. EJ stepped up and did a really great job of leading our team through that, but as a whole, it didn’t look like the Tigers that we wanted to look like out there. It’s a big stage, and while we had been there, this was a totally different gym and totally different atmosphere. Give a lot of credit to Avoylles Public Charter … They made us really play and they got after us. They did a really good job, and we were just able to kind of dig down, find something and come back and win it.”

In the championship game, Doyle trailed Lake Arthur by 21 points in the third quarter before losing 62-61 when Scott hit a basket at the buzzer.

“That outcome of that game is obviously not what we wanted, but as a coach, I was super proud of the never give up attitude that we had out there,” White said. “It would have been easy to roll over. It would have been easy to just go ahead and accept a 15-point loss and get on with your life, but they didn’t do that. They didn’t want to surrender to anybody no matter how far down we got. They picked up pressure and hit shots and tried to find a will to win, and I think that’s impressive in itself.”

Doyle vs. Many SB state championship Kaitlyn Savant

Doyle first baseman Kaitlyn Savant (4) watches in a ball to force out Many’s Makynli Miller (21) during the Class 2A state championship game on Saturday, May 1, 2021.

SOFTBALL

The Lady Tigers earned the No. 2 seed in the Class 2A playoff bracket and started the playoffs with a 20-2 rout of Oakdale in which Doyle scored seven in the second and 10 in the third to spark the rout.

Marley Olivier threw a three-hitter with 17 strikeouts, helping the Lady Tigers advance to the Class 2A quarterfinals with a 4-2 win over South Plaquemines.

Madison Diavile had a two-run single in the third, and Chloe Welda knocked in a run in the fourth and scored on an error for a 4-0 lead.

South Plaquemines got its runs in the fourth on two singles and an error.

In the quarterfinals, Doyle scored eight runs over the final two innings, including three home runs, to spark a 9-4 win over No. 10 Lake Arthur.

Doyle trailed 4-1 going into the bottom of the fifth inning when KK Savant led off the inning by reaching on an error when a fly ball went off the glove of center fielder Katherine Leonards. Madison Diaville’s single drove in Savant, cutting the lead to 4-2.

Elise Jones reached on a throwing error at third when a throw got away after a grounder to third as Lake Arthur attempted to get Diaville out at second, putting runners at second and third for Marley Olivier’s sacrifice fly to center to cut the lead to 4-3.

Kassidy Rivero followed with a grounder to third, and Jones scored on a play at the plate to tie the score at 4-4.

Kylee Savant reached on another error in centerfield, and Chloe Welda followed with a two-run home run for a 6-4 lead.

Doyle padded the lead when Addison Contorno led off the bottom of the sixth with a solo home run to right field for a 7-4 lead.

KK Savant singled to left, and two outs later, Olivier hit a two-run home run to left field.

Olivier retired Lake Arthur in order in the top of the seventh. She gave up three hits, four runs, one walk and struck out four in the win.

In the semifinals, Jones’ sacrifice fly to center field scored Addison Contorno for the game’s lone run in a 1-0 victory over Rosepine.

Doyle’s game-winning rally began when Contorno dropped a fly ball to fly ball into left field, got to second and motored into third when the throw from the outfield got away.

Rosepine elected to walk KK Savant and Madison Diaville to bring up Jones, who struck out with runners on second and third to end the bottom of the sixth inning after Shelby Taylor and Savant had singles.

Savant had two hits to lead Doyle, while Contorno, Marley Olivier and Taylor also had hits for the Lady Tigers.

Jones, who finished 0-for-3, drove a ball to center field, which was caught, allowing Contorno to score.

No. 1 Many put together a four-run sixth inning with six straight hits, rallying for a 4-2 win over Doyle in the championship game.

Doyle grabbed a 1-0 lead when Jones led off the second inning with a solo home run to left field.

Many stranded a pair of runners in the fourth after a pair of walks, but Doyle padded the lead in the top of the fifth after Chloe Welda led off with a walk, moved to second on Shelby Taylor’s sacrifice bunt, third on Contorno’s grounder to first and scored on Savant’s double to center field, making the score 2-0.

Doyle Rosepine Andrew Yuratich

Doyle's Andrew Yuratich throws a pitch to a Rosepine batter.

BASEBALL

Doyle’s drive to Sulphur was fueled by its loss to Kinder in the championship game in 2019. The team had the nucleus of that team returning as seniors this season but hit some bumps early while the school’s basketball players were in the playoffs.

The Tigers lost five games in a row, including 4-3 to Barbe, which got a two-run double with two out in the bottom of the seventh to win the game.

“I kind of wish we could have got to that 30-win season,” Doyle coach Tim Beatty said after the Tigers finished 28-9 and he was named the All-Parish co-Coach of the Year, along with Walker’s Randy Sandifer. “That would have been really special for our guys. Not having them (basketball players) that stretch, we did go through a little lull. The teams we played, they were happy to play us without them.”

“You can always play the what ifs and go back through the season,” Beatty continued, pointing to losses to Pope John Paul II and Barbe. “People are going to talk about that Barbe game, especially on our team, are going to talk about that game the rest of their life. We brought the No. 4 team, I think in the country at the time, to basically one pitch away from beating them. A lot of our guys’ memories was just playing Barbe and that was awesome. It was a highlight and a low spot in our season.”

Doyle also dealt with key injuries to Peyton Woods, who broke a bone in his hand, and Braden McLin, who injured his hamstring.

“We were banged up, man. I’m not going to lie,” Beatty said. “In one stretch of the time, we were missing our No. 5 and six-hole hitters, Braden McLin and Peyton Woods. Peyton Woods never really showed us what he can do because he was injured. He injured his hand on a home run. He fought back through it and was able to start pitching, and he pitched well in a couple of outings that he was able to pitch in. He pitched really well. In fact, he was going to be first in if Andrew (Yuratich) got in a little trouble in the championship game. We didn’t get to see the potential that I know he has at the plate …”

“Abedn Kennedy, the guy that kind of came in in his spot and filled in, man, he kind of got the chance and took advantage of it and had a really good year for us replacing Peyton,” Beatty said. “If we had Peyton’s stick in the lineup in that championship game, who knows what could have happened because he’s got a lot of potential.”

Beatty praised his team for its effort during that point in the season.

“We didn’t skip a beat, man,” Beatty said. “The guys that filled in for those guys got it done, man. We could have (said), poor us, we’re missing two guys, but, no. We kept on rolling and got it done. That’s one thing I liked about our guys. We really had a really good team, not just on the mound. We were really special on the mound, but other guys that filled in at times got it done too.”

Doyle won 13 in a row before that loss to Pope John Paul and also lost a one-run game to St. Thomas Aquinas. An 8-0 win over French Settlement started a 50-inning scoreless streak the Tigers carried into the state tournament.

During the scoreless inning streak, the Tigers got a no-hitter from Karson Jones in a win over Northlake Christian, while Yuratich, Logan Turner and McLin combined on a perfect game in an 8-0 win over Oakdale to open the 2A playoffs, which Doyle entered as the No. 1 seed.

“When it comes down to it, it’s nice to have all these pitchers,” Beatty said. “I wish the season never would end because we could run guys out there. Caiden Barcia had a really good year for a freshman, and you’d like to see him get more innings toward the end of the year, but of course when you make the playoffs, you kind of narrow it down to the two or three guys that you’re really counting on, and that’s kind of what happened there.”

Yuratich followed with a perfect game with 17 strikeouts in a 6-0 win over Pine. Hunter Bankston, Turner and Caiden Barcia combined to shut out Pine 10-0 in the second game of the series, and the Tigers swept Kinder 11-0 and 5-0.

“That was a lot to talk about, and it was a lot of fun,” Beatty said of the scoreless innings streak. “The kids pitched better because of it. I think it kind of upped their game a little bit. It kind of upped their focus. They didn’t want to be that person to give up that run, I promise.”

Loreauville stopped the streak, getting a run in the first inning in the semifinals against Yuratich, but Tyson Stewart had four RBIs and Kennedy a three-run home run, helping the Tigers to an 11-1 win.

In the championship game, Yuratich had a no-hitter going into the fifth inning, and Rosepine got a pair of hits in the sixth, leading to a run in a 1-0 loss.

“You talk about a team that gave up two runs, you’re thinking those guys won the state championship, and it just didn’t happen for us,” Beatty said.

Zachary.v.Walker Kedric Brown

Walker's Kedric Brown drives against Zachary's Gerren Hayes at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles, Louisiana on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Lake Charles American Press, Kirk Meche)

No. 5 Walker basketball

The Walker boys basketball team began the Class 5A playoffs seeded a little bit lower than it would have liked -- at No. 15 -- but the Wildcats made a return trip to the state tournament anyway.

The Wildcats, who recently won their sixth straight Livingston Parish championship, made it to the semifinals with a few new peices to the puzzle after losing Jalen Cook graduation, LSU and then Tulane, while Brian Thomas Jr. opted not to play basketball his senior season before signing to play football at LSU.

The Wildcats put together a solid run in the third quarter to help spark a 60-45 victory over Ponchatoula to open the playoffs, which was also Schiro’s 300th career win.

Walker led 29-26 at halftime before the No. 18 Green Wave opened the third quarter with a 5-0 burst that was fueled by Walker turnovers.

Walker’s Matt Ellis hit a 3-pointer that started an 11-0 run by the Wildcats, who worked the boards as the Green Wave struggled from the field.

Walker used the same formula to expand its lead in the fourth quarter with Donald Butler scoring eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. His dunk put the Wildcats ahead 50-38.

In the regional round, Walker faced No. 31 Thibodaux, which defeated No. 2 West Monroe.

The Wildcats put together a solid third quarter to pull away for a 63-56 road win. Walker led 31-29 at halftime but used a 17-8 run in the third quarter to lead 48-37 going into the fourth.

Thibodaux closed with a 19-15 run.

The Wildcats snapped a 14-14 tie at the end of the first quarter as Warren Young Jr. scored eight points and Gavin Harris seven in helping Walker gain the edge at halftime.

Young finished with 22 points, including four 3-pointers, while Harris had 16. Donald Butler added 10 with six in the third quarter.

Thibodaux hit six treys as Rashaud Winslow scored 17 points to lead the team.

In the quarterfinals, Warren Young Jr. scored 23 points and Gavin Harris added 21 as the Wildcats scored a 57-54 win over Alexandria, securing Walker’s return trip to the state tournament.

"That's where we set the standard for our program, and that's what we're trying to keep it at," Walker coach Anthony Schiro said. "I'm proud of my guys for buying in to what we're trying to do and playing the way they play and never giving up. We just want to keep it rolling as best we can and keep winning."

Alexandria led 28-23 at halftime after Harris hit a trey, but Walker went on a 19-10 run in the third quarter to take the lead. Young had 12 points in the quarter and 18 in the second half.

Walker’s wild ride through the playoffs came to an end in the semifinals, a 58-44 loss to District 4-5A rival Zachary.

Broncos guard Jordan DeCuir scored 14 of his game-high 20 points in the second half. Zachary outscored the Wildcats 37-25 over the final two quarters to take control of a close game.

Harris scored 18 points and Young added 17 to lead Walker.

Walker West Monroe Camden Carver error at first.jpg

Walker's Camden Carver reaches on an error at first base in the first inning of Thursday's semifinal game against West Monroe. Carver scored the Wildcats' only run of the game later in the inning.

No. 6 Walker baseball

(Editor's note: This is a portion of a story that was originally published on June 16, 2021.)

Fast starts to the season don't always equate to success to down the line, but that wasn't the case for the Walker baseball team last season.

Walker started the season 9-0, which coach Randy Sandifer said was key in helping set the Wildcats up for the postseason, which included a run to the semifinals, as the team stayed in the top 10 of the Class 5A power rankings.

“We’ve kind of been preaching as Sulphur being the goal for two years and trying to reach it and talking about for that to happen that the easiest course is to be really in that top eight, top four preferably, and to do that, you’ve got to win games early,” Sandifer, who was selected All-Parish Coach of the Year along with Doyle's Tim Beatty, said. “When the rankings begin to take hold really at the end of week two, you need to be in a position to do that and not have lost two or three games to where you’re outside looking in and you’re chasing because I think by the time week four or five gets here, it’s hard to move a lot. You don’t really move up a whole lot with wins and you don’t drop a whole lot with losses at that point. We kind of figured out that it’s really those first two or three weeks you need to rack up as many wins as possible to be up there in a position because I felt like in the past that by the time you get out of the tournaments in week four, you can already put yourself in the playoffs. If you’re in the top 16 or so, you’d have to really fall off to not make it. You’ve already accomplished that part of it, so then you’re just kind of jockeying to find a spot.”

Walker stayed steady all season and didn’t hit a bump until dropping a pair of games to Live Oak before getting a win over Catholic of Pointe Coupee and then losing a game to Central.

“Luckily, it started raining, and we kind of got a week to regroup,” Sanidfer chuckled. “That was really the only stretch that we went through. We weren’t making pitches on the mound. We didn’t pitch horrible, but it wasn’t as well as we’d pitched throughout the year. We had some plays on defense that were not up to what we had been making and then offensively, we couldn’t do anything. Some of that has to do with the guys we were seeing on the mound for Live Oak and Central … but we gave up a lot of runs in those three games and just didn’t play very good defensively.”

The week before the final week of the regular season, rainy weather played havoc with the baseball schedule, but Sandifer said the Wildcats tried to use that to their advantage in playing six games in six days, winning all of them heading into the playoffs.

“We were just kind of hoping when we were getting rained out, some other teams were getting rained out also, so that everybody was having to play pretty much every day like we were and couldn’t save pitching for certain games. We felt pretty confident that we could go three or four deep that week and be able to match people. We would take our chances with both teams’ No. 4’s on the mound … and that’s really what happened.”

In the playoffs, the Wildcats opened with a 5-0 win over Destrehan and defeated West Ouachita and New Iberia in best two of three series to advance to Sulphur, but Sandifer said Ouachita Parish’s 7-5 upset win over Live Oak in the first round also helped set up his team’s playoff run.

“I think the pressure is obviously on the higher seeded team, and I think when we were able to come out with the win (over Destrehan), I think it relaxed us,” Sandifer said. “Let’s be honest, Live Oak losing I think gave us a little more confidence knowing that somewhere in that second or third round, you weren’t going to face them. We got fortunate with West Ouachita beating Acadiana, so we were facing the lower seeded teams …” That’s good and bad because then kind of all the pressure’s on you and you should win.”

In the semifinals, all of the game’s runs were scored in the first inning, with West Monroe grabbing a 3-1 victory.

“We were right there,” Sandifer said. “It’s kind of bittersweet to think we out hit them and we probably had more base runners than they had throughout the game, but that’s part of baseball. We won some games on the other side of that throughout the season where we were outhit and the other team had more opportunities than us. You hate to be at that stage and it happen to you, but that’s how the game is.”

“It’s just a very gratifying experience, not only for myself, but for the assistant coaches, for this group of seniors, the juniors that are coming back, really for all of our upperclassmen,” Sandifer said. “It’s just very gratifying to see the effort and time put into it and be rewarded by getting to that chance of being in Sulphur. That’s the biggest thing. It’s hard to be disappointed or anything like that. It’s just a very gratifying year. I tell them all the time, the season is not fun. It’s stressful, a lot of pressure on you day in and day out, but to get to that point, and now that it’s been a couple of weeks looking back at it, it’s just been very gratifying. Looking back on it, there’s not a whole lot of disappointment or the ‘what if?’ scenarios. There’s very few of those that happened through the course of the year.”

Walker's Caleb Webb was the All-Parish Co-MVP along with Live Oak's Blaise Preister.

Many vs. French Settlement softball semifinal

French Settlement right fielder Brooke Karpinski (18) follows through on a swing during Class 2A semifinal game on Friday, April 30, 2021.

No. 7 French Settlement softball

(Editor's note: This is a portion of a story that was originally published on June 3, 2021.)

The French Settlement softball team parlayed a fast start to the season into a run to the state tournament.

The Lady Lions advanced to the Class 2A semifinals, setting the tone for their season with a 7-0 start.

That quick start also gave FSHS coach Blake West and his coaching staff and idea the program could be in for a special season.

“We kind of show up at practice and we see how well we’re clicking,” said West, who was selected the All-Parish Coach of the Year. “That was the point where we kind of started to believe in ourselves that this season could be something special.”

Things slowed from there, as the Lady Lions went 6-7 with a pair of losses to St. Thomas Aquinas and single losses to Central, Doyle, Holden and Springfield during the stretch, but that wasn’t necessarily a negative for the team.

The other part of the equation for West was having a young team that featured just one senior in outfielder Blair Henderson, but he said the team’s youth was never an issue this season.

“This team, all season long, they showed a great mentality and a great team approach of just playing the game, just focusing on the game between the lines, just get out there and enjoy yourself and rely on your instincts,” West said. “Don’t think too much about the X’s and O’s. Don’t think too much about what needs to be done to execute. Just rely on your instincts and do it. Yes, they were young. It was a group that we preached to them, ‘even though you are young, you play this game. You know how to play this game. Lean on your instincts and let the rest take care of itself.’”

French Settlement finished the regular season on a 5-2 run, with a 3-2 loss to Doyle in that stretch. In that game, the Lady Lions had the tying run on first to end the game after trailing 3-0 heading into the seventh inning.

“That game was big for us,” West said. “It was definitely a playoff-type atmosphere. It was a playoff-type setting. It was a game where a couple weeks before they had beat us pretty good. We felt like we could go in there and compete with them. It was really good to get out there and show ourselves that we could go toe-to-toe with the top seed in our state and that we could hang with anybody in our class.”

The Lady Lions earned a No. 12 seed in the Class 2A playoffs and opened the postseason with a 5-3 win over Delcambre at home.

“That first-round game, it was tough,” West said. “(Delcambre) came out, they battled, they got up on us early. We had to kind of claw our way back and fight our way back. It was big to be at home and to pull out that win and show ourselves that we’re a team that we can do some damage in the playoffs – that we can rely on what we’ve learned from our losses, what we’ve learned from our wins and that we could make a deep run.”

FSHS continued its playoff run with a 6-1 road win over No. 5 Lakeside with Emma Petite taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning.

“That was one of the most complete games we played all season,” West said. “We knew our opponent could swing it well, but Petite matched them with one of her best performances in the circle all season.”

The Lady Lions scrapped for a 3-2 road win over No. 4 Winnfield to advance to the state tournament, snapping a 2-2 tie on seventh-grader Stella Allison’s two-out RBI double in the sixth to win the game.

“That was game there, it was a battle,” West said. “We grinded it out. It was one of those games you just dream of being in and playing in both from a coaching standpoint and a player’s standpoint. I know they loved it, they enjoyed it. It showed us that we could win a tough game in a very hostile environment. Regardless of how young we were, it just showed us we can go in there and beat anybody at any time.”

In the semifinals, French Settlement faced No. 2 Many, which snapped a 1-1 tie with six runs in the third inning. FSHS got within 7-5 before Many scored nine unanswered runs to end the game early.

“First of all, the experience was awesome, but like you said, you don’t know how it is until you experience it, and for those girls to get that experience this year, that’s going to help us so much down the road. I really feel like we’ve got a crew coming back that can get there next year and potentially years after. You don’t know how it (the state tournament) is until you get there and you fully experience it as a team. It was a great experience. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

“Don’t get me wrong, you want to win every game you play in,” West continued. “We would have love to have (played) for a state title this year, especially against Doyle. Man, that would have been awesome, but at the same time, it’s like, ‘OK guys, look what we’ve done this season. Look what you’ve accomplished this season. Don’t hang your heads about anything. The future’s very, very bright for French Settlement.’”

DSHS Ouachita Parish Ray McKneely, Jaylen Kincaid

Denham Springs' Ray McKneely stiff arms Ouachita Parish's Jaylen Kincaid.

No. 8 Denham Springs High football

(Editor's note: This is a portion of a story that was originally published on December 22, 2021.)

In his second season at DSHS, Brett Beard’s team went 6-5 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2018, advancing to the regional round. Because of that, he was selected Coach of the Year by his peers, who also chose the All-Livingston Parish Football Team.

Denham Springs weathered its share of adversity off the field over the past two seasons with the death of player Remy Hidalgo in Beard’s first season and the death of defensive coordinator Brian Smith during this past season.

The Yellow Jackets opened the season with a 58-0 win over East Iberville after the season opener with Mandeville was cancelled in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

The following week, Denham Springs traveled to Cecilia and had 11-point lead with seven minutes to play before losing the game 48-44.

The Cecilia game was also defensive coordinator Brian Smith’s last with the team. After coaching the game that Friday, he passed away on Monday after battling cancer for several years.

From there, the Yellow Jackets’ season took another turn when the team lost tight end Andrew Goodwin to a knee injury and quarterback Reese Mooney to a broken ankle on the same drive in the following week’s game against Franklinton, which DSHS won 33-23.

DSHS got a 59-6 win over Tara before entering District 4-5A play against Central and Zachary with the team managing 99 yards of total offense in each game while taking a pair of losses.

The team also worked with Ryder Wygant, freshman Jerry Horne and running back Ray McKneely at quarterback, with McKneely eventually getting the starting nod as the coaching staff worked to get Horne up to speed on the varsity level.

Things started to take shape for the Yellow Jackets in a 28-7 win over Live Oak but really came together in a 35-28 overtime win at Walker in which DSHS trailed 14-0 and later rallied from a 20-7 deficit.

Horne came on at quarterback to engineer the tying drive, hitting Cam’Ron Eirick on a 9-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to knot the score at 28-28.

McKneely, who moved to running back, scored on a 10-yard run on the Yellow Jackets’ first drive of overtime, and the DSHS defense stopped Walker’s Ja’Cory Thomas on fourth down to ice the win.

The Yellow Jackets lost their regular season finale against Scotlandville 35-14, but Beard said

Denham entered the postseason as the No. 27 seed to earn a game at No. 6 Central. But things turned out differently in the rematch with McKneely rushing for 241 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-14 victory as the Yellow Jackets never trailed.

“It wasn’t necessarily the big deal the rivalry with Central,” Beard said. “Yeah, that was a big deal, but the bigger deal was, we felt like they saw us at a time that we were different, and you could see how we had gotten better. We were nowhere near the same team they saw, so my big thing was we can’t lose this game because we’re the 27 seed and they’re the six. Most may say we don’t belong in the playoffs still, you’re not a perineal playoff team. You’ve weathered all of this. You’ve got yourself in the playoffs. You can’t lose. You’ve taken this step with this program. You’ve moved us in that direction, but to go accept the challenge of where we were Week 6 to where we are now, that was a big deal to our kids to prove, not to just Central, but prove to themselves, prove to our school, our community and their parents that, ‘Look, I know we’ve been through a lot, and we’ve had our ups and downs, but I promise you we’ve done this. We’ve done something, and we’re on to something.’ You saw what happened that night.”

In the second round of the playoffs, the Yellow Jackets lost to Ouachita Parish, 20-14, losing three fumbles in the second half.

McKneely was selected the All-Parish Offensive MVP, while Dylan Watson was the Co-MVP on defense.

Walker girls soccer team

The Walker girls soccer team celebrates its win over Acadiana.

No. 9 DSHS, Live Oak boys soccer; Walker girls soccer make strides

It was a banner year for boys soccer programs at Denham Springs High and Live Oak and Walker on the girls side.

The Yellow Jackets secured a district title with a win over Catholic and earned the No. 5 seed in the Division I playoff bracket.

Live Oak earned the No. 12 seed in the Division II bracket after winning a district title and hosted No. 21 Sam Houston in just the second home playoff game in the program’s history. It was also the program’s highest ranking to end the season.

Meanwhile, the Walker girls soccer program experienced unprecedented success after earning a No. 22 seed, advancing to the second round of the playoffs and hosting a playoff game for the first time in program history.

DENHAM SPRINGS BOYS SOCCER

Axel Agurcia scored four goals, keying a 9-1 win over West Monroe to open the playoffs, while DSHS also got two goals each from Brennan Amato and Jon Baio, and Blaze Restivo added one score.

Yellow Jackets picked up a 4-0 win over No. 12 Mandeville in the second round, with Luke Turner scoring on a penalty kick to get things going, and Agurcia, Restivo and Baio followed with goals.

No. 4 C.E. Byrd defeated DSHS 3-2 in the quarterfinals in a game that was scoreless at halftime.

Denham got its first goal on a header by Blaze Restivo off a corner kick from Amato, and Byrd went up 3-1 on an own goal. Amato later scored on a free kick.

“To me, the goal was to win a state championship, and whether we lost in the first round or in the quarterfinals, it didn’t change,” DSHS coach Miller Hilliard said after the loss. “We didn’t achieve our goal, and again, that all falls back on me. I’ve got to do a better job preparing my guys.”

LIVE OAK BOYS SOCCER

The Eagles got a shutout and a pair of goals from Jack Earle to key a 3-0 win over Sam Houston to open the Division II playoffs.

Neville notched a 3-0 win over the Eagles in the regional round, but coach Zack Miller looked back on what the team accomplished.

“It’s nothing but positives to look back on, and all the negatives that come out of it are things that we can build on,” he said. “We’ve got 15 juniors, so we should have a strong senior class. There’s plenty of things we can still work on. Although they’re all seniors, it’s a relatively inexperienced group of guys as far as soccer IQ. We can get better. That’s the exciting part about it.”

WALKER GIRLS SOCCER

No. 22 Walker got goals from Shelby Wallace and Faith Walton to notch a 2-1 win over No. 11 Acadiana in the first round of the Division I playoffs at St. Thomas More, securing the first playoff win in program history.

N0. 6 Mandeville picked up a 7-0 win at over the Lady Cats at Wildcat Stadium in the second round in the first home playoff game in program history.

“We still accomplished more than this program has ever accomplished since its conception, so for that, my team walked off the field tonight heads high,” Walker coach Brenna Perez said after the Lady Cats finished the season at 10-10-3. “There were a few tears from the seniors but proud of what we’ve done. I don’t know how you can’t be.”

Holden girls powerlifting team

The Holden girls powerlifting team finished third at the Division V state meet in Monroe.

No. 10: Parish powerlifting on solid ground

Livingston Parish’s powerlifting programs, particularly Denham Springs High, Holden and Doyle, made strides this season.

For DSHS, the highlight of the state meet came from Raygan Bosco, who became the first athlete in school history to make the podium by winning the 220-pound weight class with 1,015 pounds. Bosco squatted 480 pounds, benched 195 and had a 380-pound deadlift.

Denham’s Ryann Roberson was fourth in the 97-pound class with 585 pounds (180-95-225), while Taylor Weatherford was ninth (160-80-170-410) and Paige Landry 10th (160-70-180-410) in the 105-pound class.

Taylor Luneau finished eighth in the 114-pound class (210-90-190-490), while Hannah Enamorado was seventh in the 123-pound class, with 570 pounds (220-90-260).

Victoria Durost was sixth in the 132-pound class with 645 pounds (210-130-305).

On the boys side, Denham Springs finished 13th as a team with six points.

Connor Rutland was fifth in the 123-pound class with 835 pounds (315 squat, 205 bench, 315 deadlift), while Ian Guarisco was ninth in the 132-pound class with 855 pounds (335-185-335).

Landon Kent finished fifth in the 181-pound class with 1,180 pounds (410-275-495), while Jack Guidry was sixth in the 220-pound class with 1,300 pounds (475-330-495).

In the 242-pound class, Casen Cox was seventh (525-325-480-1,345) and Dylan Watson eighth (450-300-435-1,185).

The Yellow Jackets’ Nate LaRue was sixth in the 275-pound class with 1,330 pounds (485-350-495), while Christopher Smith was seventh in the super heavyweight class with 1,360 pounds (545-340-425).

For Holden, three Lady Rockets won state championships, two more were runners-up and two finished in third place as Holden finished third as a team at the Division V meet.

Mary Woods won the 198-pound class with a total of 845 pounds with a 320-pound squat, 195 bench press and 330-pound deadlift while setting Division V records in the bench press and total lifted in the weight class.

Kayla Davis was the 220-pound champion with 920 pounds (375-175-370) and was the top lifter in the 165 to super heavyweight classes.

Holden’s Gabrielle Sharp won the super heavyweight class with 845 pounds (330-195-320). Holden’s Olivia Barnes was the runner-up in the 123-pound class with 735 pounds (300-135-300).

Anna Hutchinson was the runner up in the 181-pound weight class with 660 pounds (260-130- 270), while teammate Sara Torres was fourth in the same weight class with 570 pounds (225- 110-235).

Joleigh George was third in the 165-pound class with 685 pounds (265-130-290).

In the 132-pound class, Holden’s Jaydynn Sharp was third with 650 pounds (230-130-290), and teammate Haylee Bordelon was fourth with 625 pounds (230-135-260).

The Lady Rockets’ Isabella Guidry was fifth in the 198-pound class with 615 pounds (225-125-265), while Holden’s Ava Maynard was sixth in the 114-pound class (135-85-185).

Holden’s boys finished 15th with three points as Christopher Oliphant-Bonds was fourth in the super heavyweight division with 1,105 pounds (440-240-425), while Hunter Vancel was eighth in the 123-pound class (185-105-285-575).

The Lady Tigers finished eighth in the team standings at the state meet and the Tigers finished 11th, each scoring eight points in Doyle’s first year as a program.

Doyle’s Layna Neesom won the regional title in the 181.8 pound weight class with a total of 660 pounds while qualifying for the state meet with teammates Anna Catherine Cowsar, Catherine Bankston and Alicia Lindsay. Shawn West, McLin, Cade Harris and Anderson qualified for state on the boys side.

Doyle’s effort at the state meet included Neesom finishing second in the 181-pound weight class with a total of 660 pounds (265 squat, 115 bench press, 280 deadlift.

Cowsar was sixth in the 148-pound class, while teammate Catherine Bankston was ninth. Cowsar had a total of 680 pounds (240 squat, 160 bench press, 270 dead lift) while Bankston had 425 (170 squat, 80 bench press, 175 dead lift).

On the boys side, Anderson was second in the super heavyweight division with 1,350 pounds (540-300-510), while West was fourth in the 114-pound class with 495 pounds (155-115-225). McLin was eighth in the 220-pound class (345-230-395-970), and Harris was 10th in the 275-pound class (285-150-315-750).

Doyle’s Alicia Lindsay was fifth in the 220-pound class with 590 pounds (215 squat, 135 bench press, 240 dead lift).

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