Vandebilt softball searching for consistency

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Vandebilt Catholic softball coach Margaret Johnson believes she has a solid softball team – a squad capable of making a playoff push.

Once the players believe it themselves – that’s when the coach believes the magic will happen.

With the first round of district play nearing its completion, the Lady Terriers are searching for the winning mix that can inspire another run at the Class 4A State Championship.

“I don’t think our girls realize how good we can be just yet,” Johnson said. “If things work out the way that we’re hoping, I think we have a pretty special group here. Sure, all teams face adversity and we’re no different. But if we learn to believe in ourselves and play more consistently, we can be competitive against anyone.”

The key to Vandebilt’s offense is a combination of speed and timely hitting.

Seniors MaKelle Pena and Carly Ellender provide the spark at the top and bottom of the order.

Both players are slappers and can get on base simply by making contact.

Vandebilt’s offense is averaging five runs per game and has scored five or more runs in nine games.

Once on base, each player is capable of stealing to get themselves into scoring position.

“They are really, really fast,” sophomore pitcher Nora Keehn said. “And they can get the bat on the ball and push it into the outfield if they want to. They are both threats. They are sparks in our offense.”

“When Carly and MaKelle get on – they make things happen,” Johnson said. “They are aggressive base runners and they are smart base runners. Once they get on base, all we need after that is to get the players hitting behind them to get timely hits to bring them in.”

The players that Johnson referenced in the meat of the order are senior Kristen Kurtz, juniors Erin Crane and Hannah Hebert and sophomore Kylie Dufrene.

Those players have a lone responsibility within the team’s attack – bring Ellender and Pena home.

“Their biggest job is to just get the timely hits that we need to push our top of the order players home,” Johnson said. “When we do that, we’re a diverse offense and a team that is capable of putting a lot of pressure on the defense.”

When Vandebilt is hitting, they are tough to beat.

When the Lady Terriers pitch, that’s when they are elite.

Keehn is in the circle full-time after replacing Leah Bergeron, who signed with Jones County Junior College after a decorated career at Vandebilt.

The sophomore pitcher said she learned a lot from Bergeron and is enjoying being the starter.

She showed her talents Thursday against Morgan City, slinging a two-hit shutout and not allowing a single Lady Tiger into scoring position in the game.

“She’s doing great,” Johnson said. “She’s young and we’re trying to work with her on her poise and her composure out there no matter what happens in a game. But for a young kid coming up like she is, she’s doing a really good job with that.”

“It’s stressful sometimes,” Keehn conceded with a smile. “But I know that I can do it. And I have a really talented team behind me backing me up, so we make it work.”

So with a few weeks left in the season, the biggest thing missing from Vandebilt’s mix is swagger.

Johnson said she believes her team is capable of making a playoff push – they just don’t fully believe it themselves.

Keehn agreed and said that the sky is the limit for the Lady Terriers once they realize their full potential.

“I agree with Coach – I don’t think we understand how good that we can be yet,” Keehn said. “I think we’re going to keep working and keep practicing and doing the best that we can to prove to ourselves that we can do special things.”