Dutchtown softball ready to capitalize on historic No. 1 seed, embarks on start of Division I non-select playoffs

by William Weathers // GeauxPreps.com Contributor

They could have stopped and rejoiced after such a program milestone.

But Dutchtown’s softball program continued forward and not only unseated Ascension Paris rival St. Amant as the District 5-5A champion, but the Griffins finished undefeated in league play and secured another school milestone in the process.

When Dutchtown (21-6) begins competition Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the Division I non-select state playoffs at home against No. 17 Hahnville, the Lady Griffins, who received an opening-round bye, will do so as the division’s top-seeded team for the first time in program history.

Dutchtown rallied to defeat Hahnville, 10-4, on March 2 with nine unanswered runs after the fourth inning.

“We’re definitely taking it one game, one step at a time,” Dutchtown senior third baseman Riley Bennett said. “It’s definitely putting a target on our backs, but at the same time we’re using that momentum from throughout the season to feed into the final game.”

Dutchtown’s best previous seed was sixth in 2013, losing to Sam Houston in the Class 5A state quarterfinals. Two years later, the Griffins were seeded seventh when they embarked on the school’s first trip to the state tournament where they fell 3-1 to Sam Houston in the state final.

“The biggest thing was coming out first in our district because our district’s so strong,” Dutchtown softball coach Nancy Ensminger said. “That’s what allows us to be No. 1. We played a pretty tough schedule, played a lot of good teams. Our losses are to quality opponents that are rated high in their divisions.”

For Dutchtown to reach the heights it strived for in district play the Griffins had to scale St. Amant, the state’s two-time defending state champion.

Dutchtown stopped a 24-game losing streak with a 7-6 home victory on March 14 and rallied past the Gators 4-3 in a road triumph two weeks later – stopping the Gators’ 12-year district unbeaten streak.

“Our coaches got us to make notecards with three personal goals on one side, and three team goals on the other side,” Dutchtown senior shortstop Harper Dupre said. “The biggest one was winning district, then beating St. Amant twice and having a winning season. We’ve seen a lot of them play out. It was good for us to do because it kind of set a standard for us.”

Bennett said the team was aware of St. Amant statewide stature but played loose and freely in both victories over their rivals.

“Not only is it a rival game and district, but they’ve had that title the past two years,” she said. “Being the state champions for 5A softball, your heads are high going in. We had nothing to lose this year.

“We’ve never been in a better spot,” she said. “I know we all went in with a good mindset and whatever happens in those games, happens. We’ve learned so much this season. We’ve grown as players, as girls. We knew we were capable of doing it.”

Dutchtown took an 11-3 record into district play, an early stretch that included setbacks to John Curtis, Lutcher, and Archbishop Chapelle.

The Griffins also dropped non-district contests to Sam Houston (No. 6) before closing out the regular season in tune-up games for the playoffs with losses to Kaplan (No. 4) and St. Joseph’s Academy (No. 7).

“I know we took some hits at the end of our season,” Ensminger said. “We realized what kind of quality (teams) we played those last two games. It kind of stinks we lost those last two games, but I don’t think it’s going to put a damper on anything. I think we’re ready.”

Dutchtown’s built a solid resume’ on the strength of an offense that’s hit .329 with 17 homers and has also been aggressive with 75 steals in 88 attempts. The Lady Griffins also boast a balanced pitching staff (2.551 ERA) and solid defensive club (.956 fielding percentage).

Bennett and Dupre, the team’s captains, are described as the team’s sparkplugs, Ensminger said.

Bennett, the team’s leadoff batter, tops Dutchtown with a .433 average, 36 runs, seven doubles, six triples, one homer, 21 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. Dupre carries a .356 average, nine doubles with a homer and 22 RBIs.

“They’ve provided that energy we need to get us going, especially when we’re down and could roll over and die,” Ensminger said. “But that’s not happening. They supply the spark that we need at that moment.”

Junior Ella Pontiff (.429, 2 doubles, 4 RBIs) is part of the team’s rotation at first base that also includes sophomore Brooke Vicknair (.323, 5 doubles, 1 homer, 12 RBIs) and senior Ariel Hayes (.340, 6 doubles, 5 homers, 18 RBIs.)

Sophomore left fielder Jenna Blanchard bats .375 with 6 doubles, 3 homers, 33 RBIs and 10 stolen bases followed by senior catcher Caroline Mathis (.371, 4 doubles, 4 triples, 2 homers, 21 RBIs, 11 stolen bases), junior center fielder Maddie Keller (.333, 9 doubles, 18 RBIs), freshman second baseman and Caroline Johnson (.358, 2 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, 16 RBIs, 16 stolen bases).

“We have some power hitters but we’ve also have speed behind the power,” Ensminger said. “That’s a huge difference from years past. We’ve got a lot more speed on the bases than we’ve had in the past.”

Thanks to a local cable television dubbing them as ‘a three-headed monster’, Dutchtown’s pitching staff has counted on the production of three players to get the Griffins to this point in the season.

Junior Abby Froelich and senior Maddie West have made the bulk of the starts, but senior Sidney Dunham’s provided a sense of calm out of the bullpen and helps give the pitching staff an assortment looks that keeps the opposition guessing.

“We do what we have to do to throw batters off balance, help our team out,” Ensminger said. “We know we can bring any of them in at any time.”

Froelich (9-3, 4 saves, 2.11 ERA, 90 Ks., 86 innings) and West (9-3, 2.97, 70 Ks, 68.1 innings) have 18 of the team’s wins and Dunham (3-0, 2.91, 26 Ks, 24 innings) is the team leader in saves with five.

“I told the team they were a special group,” Ensminger. “And if they stayed together, and play like you’re supposed to, y’all could go a long way.”

Said Dupre: “Our chemistry’s this year has been a lot fun. I’m excited to have a lot of fun.”