He’s been there all season long, but French Settlement softball coach Blake West had to sit back and reflect on his team’s accomplishments this season.
“We were expecting a playoff run,” West said. “We were wanting to go deep. We had that feeling that we could make a good, little run, but the semifinals, man, making a state tournament appearance, that’s awesome, man,” West said. “If we can go down here and win a game on Friday, play for the state championship on Saturday, it would be just legendary, almost, for us.”
No. 12 French Settlement faces No. 1 Many in the Class 2A semifinals on Field 13 Friday at Frasch Park in Sulphur as part of the state tournament. A win there would put FSHS into Saturday’s 3 p.m. championship game against the Doyle-Rosepine winner.
It’s taken a team effort to get to this point, and the Lady Lions have relied on several key players, among them pitcher Emma Petite, who gave up eight hits, walked one and struck out five in a complete game to get the win in the team’s 3-2 victory over Winnfield in the semifinals.
“Coming into the season, we knew she was going to take on a very large role in the circle for us,” West said. “She was going to be someone who was going to be someone that was going to have to throw a lot of innings for us and throw well, and she has. She’s kept us in a lot of games this year. She’s won a lot of games for us this year in the circle.”
The Lady Lions have also gotten help in the circle from Katie Harper, who started in a 3-2 loss to Doyle late in the regular season.
“Emma has shouldered a big load, but Katie has kind of been there all season to relieve some of that pressure, some of that load off of Emma,” West said.
“I feel like we can go in there, we’ve got two pitchers we can throw at any time in any situation,” West continued. “Emma’s kind of the horse that got us there. She’s kind of who we’ve been riding lately, but to have both of them, just to know we can use them at any given time in any given situation, gives me a lot of confidence in our pitching staff.”
Seventh-grader Stella Allison has also been one of the team’s main contributors, with 33 RBIs and a .474 batting average during the regular season, leading FSHS in both categories.
“We knew coming into this year that Allison could play, that Allison was going to contribute, but she’s contributed in a huge way defensively,” West said. “She’s been outstanding.
“It’s tough to go in and expect (numbers) like that out of a seventh grader, a 12-year-old, but when they do it, it’s huge, absolutely huge,” West said.
Outfielder Blair Henderson the team’s lone senior, has done her part as well, leading the team in free passes with 17, getting hit eight times to go with nine walks.
“She’s one of those players that she will do whatever it takes to win a game for you,” West said. “She’s really set the tone for our entire team all season long.”
The Lady Lions started the season with eight straight wins, which helped build confidence.
“The offense clicked early,” West said. “The pitching kind of fell into place, and before long, it was like we really got some things cooking here with the lineup that can be pretty dangerous, and it has been for us,” West said.
The challenge now is playing at Frasch Park and the environment only the state tournament presents, but West is hoping his team can draw on its road playoff wins over Lakeside and Winnfield heading into Friday’s game.
“We’re just looking at like we went into a tough environment at Lakeside,” West said. “We got into a zone. We focused on ourselves. We really focused on keeping everything between the lines, playing everything focused on us. It was the same situation at Winnfield. Winnfield drew a huge crowd, a lot of noise, a tense atmosphere. Before we went in there, we just said we’re going to focus on the game between the lines. We know it’s going to be bigger, it’s going to be louder than anything we’ve experienced, but we’re going to focus on the game between the lines.”
“We’ve maintained our focus this week,” West said of practices. “I think the energy at practice has been great, like it has been all season. The focus was there. They know the task at hand. They know the team we’re playing is good, but we’re taking the approach we’ve already beaten several good teams in the playoffs the past week, and it’s nothing different. We’re going to show up ready to play on Friday.”
West is hoping that outlook will bring positive results for his team in Sulphur.
“We’re definitely happy with where we’re at but we’re not yet satisfied,” West said. “We’ve got a little more work to do this weekend before we’re satisfied with the work we’ve put in this season, but the main this is just bring the energy, bring the focus, bring the intensity, play the game, have fun and just let the results speak for themselves. We’re going to worry about ourselves. We’re going to let everybody else worry about anything else going on. We’re just trying to show up and play the game.”