Sometimes it’s not how you finish.
It’s infinitely more fitting to remember the 2021 Natchitoches Central Lady Chiefs softball team for what they did accomplish, rather than what didn’t go as hoped.
Their historic postseason run ended beyond expectations, in the state quarterfinal round, with the longest stretch of success for the NCHS program this century, at least.
A throng of fans, family members and suddenly interested observers were on hand Saturday afternoon to witness history as the Lady Chiefs hosted powerhouse West Monroe in a Class 5A Elite Eight matchup at Parc Natchitoches.
A fourth inning that will unfortunately live in infamy was catastrophic. West Monroe closed out a 17-0 rout by scoring 13 times in its fourth at-bat.
If it could go wrong, it did for NCHS. It was the opposite of a season that earned the Lady Chiefs a ninth seed in the 32-team state playoff field.
It happened on the heels of a stirring 2-1 triumph in Baton Rouge over longtime state softball power Central High in the regional round of the playoffs.
Despite the crushing immediate impact of the bad inning and the outcome, it did not detract from the rise of the Lady Chiefs this spring.
One indication of the respect they earned is the multi-faceted effort by city leaders, Parc Natchitoches managers and others who moved mini-marshlands to provide a quality venue for Saturday’s game.
An ironic footnote: ordinarily, a state quarterfinal game would have been played at the state tournament in Sulphur, but the extensive damages from last fall’s hurricane have collapsed hotel availability there, so the LHSAA shifted its schedule and spread Elite Eight contests around the state. So these Lady Chiefs didn’t have the chance to step into the statewide spotlight in Sulphur, as they would have in almost any other year.
Nonetheless, the occasion Saturday will not soon be forgotten.
For seniors Krystalin Edwards, Josie Fontenot and Lindsay Hargis, it was their final time in uniform. They were part of a 23-9 team that made an indelible mark.
Coach Ronnie Ables will have a lot of talented players back for 2022 and beyond.
The Lady Chiefs may have just scratched the surface this spring.
But if greater accomplishment is ahead, this year’s team will be remembered as the one that made the breakthrough to respect in softball circles around the state.
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