DENHAM SPRINGS – Behind a lights-out performance from pitcher Natalie Parker, six-seed Denham Springs opened their playoff run with an emphatic 10-0 victory Friday over No. 27 Ruston in five innings at North Park.
Parker struck out 10 of the 16 batters she faced and only allowed two baserunners, one on the only hit he allowed in the fifth and another reaching on an error.
The first time through the lineup, Parker struck out eight of the nine Bearcats (8-20).
“I didn’t know how many strikeouts I had,” Parker said. “I was just focused on one batter at a time. I guess I was more locked in because I know that every game really counts now. It could be the end, every game. I guess I was more locked in, but it wasn’t like a pressure thing. We needed to focus and get it done. All of us knew that and none of us let the pressure get to us.”
Denham Springs makes it second straight state regional appearance next week, hosting No. 11 Pineville, a 6-4 winner over No. 22 Fontainebleau.
In addition to her dominant performance in the circle, Parker went 2-3 at the plate with a two-run home run in the first inning.
Denham Springs coach Leslie Efferson-Yellot was impressed with how her team not only handled the bigger stage of playoffs but put together one of their most complete performances of the season.
“For these athletes, in high school it’s different than any other realm of the game,” she said. “This is the place where they feel pressure. You never know how your team is going to respond. But I felt very sure they were going to come out and play.”
Denham Springs (22-4) opened the game with Parker’s two-run blast, set up by an infield single from Rayne Minor to leadoff the game. Parker’s home run may have been a bit unexpected since it came in a full count, when hitters are typically trying to protect the plate above all else.
“I knew the ump was calling anything remotely close to the strike zone,” Parker said. “I knew that if it was over the plate or maybe even a ball off, I had to swing at it. I took the hardest cut I could, and it just happened.”
The Lady Jackets broke the game early in the third inning, scoring six runs with two outs after Minor tripled and Paige Luquette reached on an error. A pair of walks brought in Minor and kept the bases loaded for Alexis Richardson, who wiped
the bases clean with a bloop single that was almost picked off the top of grass by Bearcat centerfielder Amauri Keys.
Macie Langlois then drove in a pair of runs, including Richardson, with an inside-the-park home run that rolled to the right-center gap for an 8-0 lead.
DSHS scored a run in the fourth following two errors on the same play to enforce the mercy-rule in the fifth.
Richardson drew a walk, stole second before being bunted over twice to score the final run.
“They were ready,” Efferson-Yellot said. “They were intense and that’s what it takes. I’m just proud of them.”