DENHAM SPRINGS - A combination of small-ball, aggressive base-running, and a desire to not repeat the agony of a tough loss early in last year’s playoffs was enough to earn the No. 6 seed Denham Springs a 5-2 Class 5A regional playoff win Tuesday over No. 11 Pineville at North Park.
Denham Springs (23-6) advances to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2015 and will travel to face No. 3 seed Barbe, a 10-0 winner over No. 14 Ponchatoula.
“Last year was a heartbreaker when we lost to Mandeville by two runs (in the regional round),” coach Leslie Efferson-Yellott said. “But they had a fire in them this year. We weren’t going to get to this point and fall short of our goal. That was our theme…’never again’. I am just so proud of them”
With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth, the Lady Jackets scored three runs on just one hit. Two stolen bases and consecutive suicide-squeeze plays fueled the inning.
With one out, Hailey Thomas walked, and Emma Hymel followed with a pop-fly single down the right-field line that sent Thomas to third. McKenzie Redmond replaced Hymel at first as a courtesy-runner and promptly stole second on the first pitch to Rayne Minor.
On the next pitch, Minor bunted the ball toward the circle. Pitcher Alexis Garoutte fielded the ball and threw home, but Thomas easily beat the throw for a 2-1 lead.
That left runners at first and third for Paige Luquette. Minor stole second on the first pitch and Luquette executed a squeeze bunt, directing the ball to the circle and allowing Redmond to score.
Luquette was thrown out at first, but the RBI put the Jackets up 3-1.
Natalie Parker batted next and her fly-ball to right field was dropped, allowing the third run of the inning to score.
The successful squeeze plays were a reward for Efferson-Yellott’s trust in her team.
“They did a great job of executing,” she said. “That’s pressure, but we try to apply pressure to them in practice so that when they get in this setting, it’s just like any other day.”
Luquette saw the signal for the squeeze play as an opportunity to help the team.
“It’s not really pressure,” she said. “It’s more like I know I have to get it down for my team. It is more of a ‘want-to’ to get the job done.”
“We worked a lot this week on small-ball,” said Efferson-Yellott. “In the postseason, the higher up you get, the better pitching you are going to see. Sometimes it is what you are looking for, just to scratch across one or two runs. For me, however you get it, you get it.”
Parker allowed seven hits and struck out nine to earn the win.
In addition to the RBI on the bunt, Luquette was part of two other run-scoring plays. She doubled in the first, stole third, and scored when the catcher threw the ball into left field, and her RBI-groundout in the sixth added an insurance run.
After two home playoff wins, the Lady Jackets take their show on the road for the first time in the postseason which Efferson-Yellott believes they’ll be up for.
“I think they are ready to go,” she said. “They are so excited at this point. We are in the top eight. That is a lot to brag about.”
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