Gasoline containers. Cheese sticks. Plastic forks.
Not items commonly found in a high school softball team's locker room, but then again Hahnville is not just any softball team.
The Lady Tigers will take a 29-3 record (which included a school record 24-game win streak) into the 5A Playoffs as the No. 2 seed. They have been ranked as high as No.3 in the nation by MaxPreps and that's where the unique items started showing up in the locker room, all motivational tools used by head coach Jerry Nugent.
“We've been doing a little thing called 'Message Monday' after we got the first national ranking,” said Nugent. “I was excited about it of course but apprehensive because obviously there's still more work left to be done. When you're getting that much positive attention its easy to let your guard down.”
So enter props in each player's locker.
Gasoline containers = Don't run out of gas in April when the playoffs start
Cheese sticks = Don't “eat the cheese” and believe all the hype
Plastic forks = Stay hungry and keep the fight up
The messages seem to be working. Here's what senior catcher Kamryn Keller said would be the key to reaching Hahnville's ultimate goal.
“The key for us to winning the state championship is not run out of gas, and don't be content with just one game,” said Keller.
Hahnville has used a lineup loaded with upperclassmen to roll through a perfect 12-0 District 7-5A record and break numerous school records along the way.
So far in 2018 Hahnville has established new single-season school records in hits (357), batting average (.396), home runs (37), RBI (322), runs (360), and stolen bases (114).
“What's impressive to me was (breaking records) was never a goal,” said Nugent. “We're very proud of (the records) of course, but they've been a by-product of a concerted effort and a team effort to win. The thing that doesn't show up on some of those records with the hits, and the RBIs, and the home runs are the little things that we did to get us in position to do that. There were kids who worked their way on base that led to that next kid getting that home run. Or there was a kid who was hot at the plate that nobody wanted to pitch to so the kid before them saw a pitch. It made it a team effort.”
There have been several individual single-season school records to fall this year as well and leading the way in that department is Bayleigh Baudouin. Hahnville's junior shortstop has established new single-season school records with 60 hits, 52 RBI, a .541 batting average, and has tied the home run record with 9.
“Bayleigh is a prodigiously talented young lady,” said Nugent. “She really approaches her offense with a sense of reflection. She's real good at making adjustments. Very rarely do you see Bayliegh mishit the same pitch twice in practice, very rarely do you see her make any mistakes at all but when she does, you rarely see her make it twice.”
“We have a lot of confidence going into the postseason, because we do the little things right and we don't take anything for granted,” said Baudouin.
Another record-breaker has been senior second baseman Danielle Duplay who has set single-season school records with 54 runs and 33 stolen bases. She is also Hahnville's career leader in stolen bases.
“(Duplay) is our little spark plug,” said Nugent. “She's been our leadoff hitter for as long as I remember and is a very good defensive player. She's very quick but very versatile at the plate. She can bunt her way on, slap her way on, swing her way on. She's kind of a catalyst to the offense. That's been the story the last four years, get Danielle on and good things will happen.”
The offensive numbers may be blinding, and that's just fine with Hahnville whose senior on the mound has been throwing pitches that have been tough to see (and hit) all year. Karly Taranto has recorded a decision in every Hahnville game this season with a sparkling 29-3 record, 1.47 ERA, with 133 strikeouts.
“She's a workhorse. There's not a pitcher around who puts in more time than Karly and quite honestly I don't think there's a pitcher around that loves playing softball as much as Karly,” said Nugent. “It's paid off, she's a great kid she's a true worker. I don't think there's anybody who wants to win not only just from a competitive standpoint but for her team, for her community, and for her school more than Karly does.”
“The key that has been so successful for me is that I allow my defense to work behind me and I can trust them that they will make all the plays,” said Taranto.
Now in his fourth season as Hahnville's head coach after serving three years as an assistant, Nugent has guided the Lady Tigers to two of the team's preseason goals (undefeated district record, top four seed) but still has two more to go (return trip to state tournament in Sulphur and a state championship).
Nugent enters the post season with both experience and success having won over 82 percent of his games with a career record of 447-96 which includes 16 district titles and one state championship (Mt. Carmel 2008).
“The playoffs are designed to eliminate the weak,” said Nugent. “If you show a chink in your armor you could be going home a lot sooner than you anticipated. We're going to do all the little things right, we're going to grind, and we're going to work all the way until the very end.”
Hahnville opens the 5A playoffs at home Tuesday April 17 at 4:00 p.m. with a Bi-District matchup with No. 31 Comeaux.
With five more wins, the Lady Tigers can eat all the cheese sticks they want.