New coach? No problem!: HLB makes playoff push

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Adjusting to a new head coach anytime is tough.

Doing it in the middle of a season? That’s darn near impossible.

But don’t tell that to the H.L. Bourgeois softball team – they are handling their in-season adversity to near perfection.

Despite losing their coach Russell Shaw this past week when he resigned to accept a teaching position at J.B. Martin Middle School, the Lady Braves have rallied and have won their first two games without the coach – victories that have strengthened the team’s postseason positioning.

“This just wasn’t a huge change for them,” interim coach Bridget Ballay said. “It wasn’t a drastic change. Most people would think, ‘Oh my God, they just lost their head coach, they are definitely going to fall apart.’ But our ladies have held everything together just fine. It’s not much of a change. They are treating it like nothing ever happened to them.”

“It’s not much different,” senior Meagan McDonald said. “I still feel like we kept going even though coach isn’t here anymore. We’re playing for him, too. We’re treating this like he’s still a part of what we’re trying to do, because he prepared us for this point.”

The way the Lady Braves have handled their adversity marks the tone of this entire “Renaissance” season for H.L. Bourgeois.

After a handful of poor seasons, the Lady Braves say they decided after 2011’s disappointing campaign that enough was enough.

Players say Shaw and Ballay both told the team following last season that things would be different this time around.

Those feelings have come true.

“At tryouts, we had this good feeling that we were going to do some great things,” senior shortstop Cheyenne Naquin said. “With the young players we had coming in, we said to ourselves, ‘Just because they are young, that doesn’t mean anything.’ We have a lot of talent on this team and right from tryouts, we knew that we were going to be a very good team capable of making things happen.”

“Coach Shaw told them flat-out last season that he expects more and he demands more,” Ballay said. “When we had tryouts at the end of last year, we set the standard that we’re looking for athletes, not just kids who want to be out here. We wanted kids that want to play, kids that have heart – just the real good, balanced softball player. This group, compared to last group, just wants to win more, they just have that little bit of heart and that little bit of pride.

“I told our seniors earlier, ‘Thanks for just bring a little bit of pride back to H.L. Bourgeois softball.’”

One of the biggest sources of pride for the Lady Braves has been their defense.

H.L. Bourgeois has made its mark this season by mastering routine plays and making its share of extraordinary plays.

“We’re making the easy plays,” Ballay said. “We’re not giving any extra outs to opponents. That’s important.”

“Our defense has been just remarkable,” senior Ashley Soudelier said. “We’re just playing harder and harder out there.”

Those things have allowed pitcher Kasie Hebert to settle in and fool pitchers with her off-speed approach, which has allowed the team to continue winning, even with its midseason change.

“The things we went to surprised us a little bit, I guess,” Naquin said. “But we knew we were strong enough to get through it and keep winning.”

Don’t let the circumstances of the mid-season resignation fool you – Shaw isn’t leaving the program on bad terms.

Both Ballay and players say they support the former coach’s decision, saying it was the best move for he and his family.

“If I were in the same situation as him, I probably would have done the same thing,” Ballay said.

McDonald added that the coach’s parting words to the team were well wishes, adding he’d be keeping tabs on them from away, hoping they continued their winning ways.

“He told us he’d be our No. 1 fan,” Naquin said.

With the coaching transition move and regular season now complete, H.L. Bourgeois will turn its attention from one challenge to another – the playoffs.

The Lady Braves rolled through district with a 9-3 record, enough to easily clinch the spot as district runner-up.

But in terms of power points, H.L. Bourgeois is right on the fence and was ranked No. 31 in the latest power rankings projection – usually an accurate measure of a team’s score.

Only 32 teams make the playoffs, meaning the Lady Braves are truly on the bubble.

“I don’t even really fully understand how all that works out yet,” Ballay said with a laugh. “But I do commend Coach Shaw for the way he scheduled for us, because there are teams with not as many losses as we have, who are seeded below us. We played some tough teams early in the season and we lost some of those games, but I guess by playing those teams, it boosted our score to where we are now. He deserves credit for that.”

But assuming they get into the playoffs, don’t expect H.L. Bourgeois to crumble in the face of a high-seeded opponent.

These girls have already faced their share of adversity this year.

They are ready to go and take their best shot.

“Our defense has been solid all year,” Soudelier said. “Our offense is coming around. If we just keep working on the fundamentals, who knows what might happen? We really believe that we can be as good as anyone else.”

“These girls keep improving, we really think their ceiling is high,” Ballay said. “We’re excited to see what they could do moving forward.”

H.L. Bourgeois pitcher Kasie Hebert fires a pitch during a game this past week against South Lafourche.