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‘They just believe’

Ruston softball defeats Choudrant
Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Photo by Josh McDaniel Ruston senior Cala Wilson produced in the circle and at the plate to lead Ruston over Choudrant.

The Ruston High softball team is different. There’s no denying it now.

After winning just four games a season ago, the Lady Bearcats got off to a hot start to the 2024 season with a 6-1 record with a strong winning streak in Texas last week. No doubt it was encouraging. But as always with out-of-state competition, it can be hard to gauge if the wins could back carry over for in-state play. Was Ruston’s early turnaround sustainable?

Ruston answered those questions in a statement win over Lincoln parish rival No. 2 (Division V non select) Choudrant (1-1) in an 11-1 victory over the Lady Aggies on Tuesday – Ruston’s first win over Choudrant since 2021 and vaulting the Lady Bearcats to No. 6 in the Division I non select power ratings.

It’s an eight-game sample, but Ruston head coach Lauren Garvie said postgame her team needed to show its momentum and belief was warranted. They got it.

“We go to Texas and we win six ball games and that’s awesome and we need that but nobody knows who we beat and what happened or what the game looked like,” Garvie said. “And then we come back home against a team that’s run-ruled us in the past and we say, ‘No. We’re just the same in Louisiana as we were in Texas. We’re winning ball games.’”

The turnaround is evident in the matchup with Choudrant alone after Ruston lost 11-0 to the Lady Aggies in 2023 and 18-3 in 2022.

This season, thanks to a potent lineup and the two-way talent of Cala Wilson, the Lady Bearcats had their turn to finish on top.

Wilson went six innings in the circle, allowing two hits and one earned run while striking out six batters. She didn’t have a bad night at the plate either, hitting three home runs, including a two-run shot in the 5th.

Ruston came out swinging, recording five straight hits before the first out in the top of the 1st inning – capped off by a three-run home run to deep center field by Sage Tolar to bring in Wilson and Murphy DeMoss to lead 3-0. Ruston nearly batted through the order before it was Choudrant’s turn to hit.

The Lady Aggies got started with a leadoff single from Holly Bennett but she was later thrown out by Jojo Fernandes as Bennett tried to steal second.

Choudrant would manage one hit the rest of the ballgame.

After scoring a run and putting up a 0 in the circle, Wilson got in the offensive party and crushed a deep solo home run to left field to give Ruston a 4-0 lead.

“They’re the same team. They really are the same team. But they have a different mindset. Skill, they didn’t change. They just believe in themselves,” Garvie said. “It’s not just, ‘oh Cala’s going to go up and hit a bomb for us,’ which she did. But it’s now, ‘Cala’s going to hit a bomb and then Murphy DeMoss is going to come up and keep it going and hit a line drive. It’s just constant. And that’s what we keep saying is be consistent. Because when you score every inning, it’s deflating. We’re going to hit the ball. That’s the same pitcher the girls struggled against last year. We didn’t have very many base runners last year. And this year, we’re up three in the first inning.”

Choudrant’s best chance to score came in the bottom of the 3rd with runners on second and third with one out after Wilson walked a pair of batters and recorded a flyout as her command started to drift too high in the zone. After a brief setback, Wilson managed to avoid any damage and get the heart of Choudrant’s order to hit into three straight flyouts to end the frame with the runners stranded.

The flyouts were hard-hit, but Ruston right fielder Morgan Foster jumped near the wall multiple times to keep the runners stuck on base.

“I thought our right fielder Morgan Foster did phenomenal,” Garvie said. “Morgan gets up on the wall and catches those balls and she’s so fast so she catches those balls and if you don’t have somebody chasing down balls like that, those shots are deflating. Instead, we have a defense that backs up our pitcher.”

Wilson turned her pitching success into another loud plate appearance in the top half of the 4th with an opposite field home run on the first pitch she saw to give Ruston a 5-0 lead. Morgan Foster and Shelby Freeman’s back-to-back doubles added another run for the Bearcats to lead 6-0 the top of the 4th.

Wilson’s big night continued in the 5th after Rilee Atwood reached third on an outfield error by Choudrant to give Ruston’s leadoff hitter a prime opportunity to herself. With two outs gone and a runner primed to score, Choudrant brought in Addison Worley to pitch in relief of Holly Bennett with hopes of containing Wilson the fourth time around.

She opted to detonate, sending Worley’s pitch deep into right field, powerful enough that the ball ricocheted off a light pole beyond the right field wall and back into the field of play. With the blast, Ruston went up 8-0.

In the bottom half of the inning, Choudrant once again had a scoring opportunity gifted after Kylie Willis reached safely on an infield throwing error by Ruston, sending her all the way around to third with no outs. But Choudrant once again couldn’t bring home a run as Wilson put up consecutive strikeouts and later ended the threat on a soft pop out to shortstop Abby Holton. 

In the top of 6th, Ruston puts its final touches on its victory with three runs off an RBI single from Allie Richardson, along with two errors by Choudrant, to score Foster, Freeman, and Holton to extend the lead to 11-0.

The Lady Aggies avoided a shutout thanks to a solo home run by Zoey Smith in the bottom half of the inning.

Choudrant head coach Wayne Antley was hoping for better execution out of his group but first acknowledged the growth of Ruston in his postgame comments.

“I’m telling you, they have improved a lot,” Antley said. “She does such a good job with them. We just didn’t hit it hard. We never could get a hit early when we needed one to get people on base. I can’t complain this early in the season. We’ll see. We’ve got a full week this week.”

Along with Tolar and Wilson’s home runs, Ruston was led by Foster and Freeman each finishing with three hits apiece, while DeMoss and Richardson had two hits.