DENHAM SPRINGS – Denham Springs overcame a case of senior day jitters and shaky early defense to rally for a 9-4 victory Thursday over Live Oak at North Park, keeping its hopes alive for a share of the District 4-5A championship.
Denham Springs (21-4, 5-2 in district) trails Walker (19-9, 6-1) going into their regular-season finale next Tuesday in Walker. The Lady Cats remained in first place with a 12-0 road win over Central.
Senior pitcher Natalie Parker homered twice and shut Live Oak for the final five innings to earn the win. Parker and Paige Luquette homered on back-to-back pitches in the third inning to put Denham Springs on top for good as the Lady Jackets settled down after committing errors in each of the first three innings.
“I didn’t think we were emotional,” Denham Springs coach Leslie Efferson-Yellott said of her team’s slow start. “It was more that we weren’t game-ready and game-focused. We weren’t there (at our normal time) for warmups. There were a lot of different things about our routine and routine is huge in sports.”
With Parker struggling to find her command early, Live Oak (12-14, 2-6) took a 4-0 lead in the top of the second.
With one out and the bases loaded, Shaun Leiva hit a three-run triple down the left-field line past a diving Alexis Richardson. Two batters later, Leiva scored the fourth run on a dropped fly ball in the outfield.
Efferson-Yellott then called time-out to visit the circle for the first time in the inning to try to stem the tide.
“I waited a little longer to go out,” she said. “I just wanted to see what they would do, fighting through that. We really have started out ahead of most games and haven’t had a lot of innings where people put up four runs in a row.”
The coach spoke only to Parker on her visit.
“I told her to just slow down,” she said. “She needed to not have me tell her what to do. She needed to make in-game adjustments herself from pitch-to-pitch”
Parker retired Emma Brooks on a ground-out to end the inning and the Lady Jackets didn’t let Live Oak enjoy the big lead for long.
Live Oak starting pitcher Emalea Dimaio hit four batters with a pitch, forcing in the first run.
With the bases loaded and two out, catcher Brett Leiva tried to pick Macie Langlois off of third base, but the throw went into left field, enabling Langlois to score and cut the deficit to 4-2.
Another run scored on an infield grounder by Rayne Minor and the Lady Jackets were within a run.
“It was huge to get on the board the very next inning,” Efferson-Yellott said of the second-inning rally. “I told the team that we need to answer back and chip away little by little and take advantage of mistakes they might make.”
After finally gaining the lead after the third, Parker held Live Oak scoreless, but the Lady Eagles had base-runners in each inning
“I felt good that we were a threat every inning, we just needed to get two hits back-to-back to make a difference in the score,” Live Oak coach Michelle Morris said.
But in the end, it was only appropriate that Parker helped save the day on senior day.
“I’m so proud of that kid, she has struggled a little bit at the plate for what her ceiling is for herself,” Efferson-Yellot said. “To come out on senior day and battle through maybe some mental obstacles when she didn’t have her best game (in the circle). But she definitely answered back at the plate.”