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‘It breaks a cycle’

Ruston’s softball program finally believes
Wednesday, April 10, 2024
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Photo by Josh McDaniel

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Photo by Brennen Zigler (Bigg Zigg) Ruston softball has finally broken a cycle of losing and is having more fun than ever this spring.

In sports, the concept of belief can often be overplayed into cliché. 

Players and coaches have to say they believed when it goes well, after a game-winning shot or walk-off hit. It’s true that winning breeds confidence. 

But what about when it’s going bad? How about 4-23 and 4-29 bad?  

Belief isn’t just a cliché at that point, it’s a fallacy. No one wants to hear about belief when there’s nothing to latch onto. 

That’s where the Ruston softball program was, seemingly trapped in a repeating history of coaches coming and going, with less than 10 wins to show for it, and a roster counting the days until summertime. 

No playoff appearance since 2021 and no more than one district win in six years. 

That is until RHS Athletic Director Jerrod Baugh hired Lauren Garvie as a first-time head coach after spending years as an assistant softball coach in Carthage, Texas. 

“When I made it to Ruston, I looked up jobs and figured why not apply,” Garvie said. “I’m lucky that coach Baugh has ties to east Texas, and I worked for one of the most respected ADs in Texas. So it really all just kind of came together and I’m very grateful.” 

Her first year, a 4-23 finish, didn’t go according to plan. It looked like this would be another hire that wouldn’t quite fit in. Selling belief for what 2024 could be? Looking back, Garvie knew it was a hard ask. 

“It could have been very easy to say, ‘It is what it is,’ and finish out their high school careers,” Garvie said. “It could have been easy for Cala Wilson to say I’m going DI, forget it. It could have been easy for Shelby Freeman to say I’m not sure if I’m going to play, forget it and forget high school and figure it out later. They didn’t do that. I’m proud of their willingness to say they’re going to keep playing. We’re going to keep going.” 

Ruston, particularly its senior class, trusted in Garvie and Garvie trusted back. The upperclassmen grew tired of losing. And seniors weren’t about to have their final act at Ruston end in familiar fashion. 

As the 2024 season approached, the Lady Bearcats used their belief in each other to work as hard as they ever have and sharpen the small details that have held them back in previous seasons. 

Belief, as broad of a concept as it is, is all the program needed. 

The result? A turnaround that’s restored pride amongst players. 

Ruston finished its regular season 17-12 overall, the most wins since 2018. They won five district games, the first time since 2018 with more than one in league play. And the program made the postseason for the first time since 2021. 

Allie Richardson, a senior, said success like this has created lifelong memories and sets the program up to continue this rise. 

She credits it all to how much Garvie isn’t like her previous coaches. 

“I think it breaks a cycle of the program not being as good as people think. This is hope for future Bearcats, honestly,” Richardson said. “I think it’s all a mindset. In the past few years, we haven’t had anything to look forward to. Having a new coach and working hard as a team, I think it created a new mindset. The past few years, the coaches that have come in have been there as just a coach. But she’s come in and believed in our team and our legacy we could create.” 

Belief isn’t cliché pep talk with these Lady Bearcats. It’s real and they can finally feel like they have a leader worth preparing and playing for. 

Shelby Freeman, a fellow senior who’s hit .433 with 29 RBIs this year, said the 2024 season has been the most fun she’s had in her prep career. And it’s all because of genuine love and belief throughout the program. 

“It’s honestly been very memorable. We had eight wins the past two years. It’s something to cherish to close out our high school careers,” Freeman said. “I feel like we had that weight on our shoulders of like, ‘They’re not going to do that. They won’t get more than four wins this year.’ We dug in this year and practiced and got it together and came together as a team. 

As for Garvie’s impact, Freeman said, “I feel like she’s believed in us.” 

But how do you believe in the face of years of failure? How does a program’s culture change from hunting to being the hunted? 

Garvie said it wasn’t overnight. Most of the 2023 season and offseason leading into 2024 was spent unlearning mistakes of the past.  

In a sport where the space is confined, windows are smaller, and room for error, mental and physical, is tight, Garvie said Ruston had to buy in to grinding the details. 

They knew no one would believe in them, so their only choice was to believe in each other and trust the process would reward them. 

Now, the results have arrived. And it’s left opposing teams dumbfounded with how a program that just a year ago was in the cellar of Class 5A is now comfortably in the Division I Non-select playoff field. 

And more powerful than that, Garvie can see the Lady Bearcats take pride in what they do and what they’re working towards. 

“They pay attention to social media and people saying stuff,” Garvie said. “At one point, we played a team and they said, ‘Hit the ball. It’s Ruston!’ – like it’d be incredible for them not to hit the ball against us. And then the girls opened social media one day and it said, ‘Forget you then. Ruston softball is 7-1 in their first couple of weeks.’ I think for the girls, they were finally walking down the halls with a little bit of pride. They wear their softball gear and tell people to come to the games because they feel they’re going to win.” 

Wilson, the Lady Bearcats’ big bat leading the team in batting average (.582), home runs (14), and RBIs (41), said the turnaround began when players felt Garvie’s plan wasn’t just about words. She trusted in Wilson and other upperclassmen to meet the challenge. 

The talent has been there. Wilson is going on to play at Lamar University, while junior Morgan Foster is verbally committed to McNeese State. Others have been playing the sport for years. Wilson said they just needed someone to give them the green light. 

“It’s a great steppingstone for future Bearcats,” Wilson said. “Growing as a program has taken a lot. Going out there with a new coach, our third for us seniors, it’s been cool to watch us grow as a team.” 

When Garvie officially took over in May of 2022, she met with players and parents to hear them out. Her takeaway? Winning four games is not what this program truly is. 

 “I feel like they knew they were better than what their record said. The girls were aware. Parents were aware. But I think having someone tell them, ‘I agree. You are better,’ is really important,” Garvie said. “They’ve gone through a lot of adversity the last couple years, and the past four for the seniors. They dealt with it well.”  

Ruston will begin its first postseason since 2021 this week, with the game date and opponent still to be determined.