Previewing the 2024 LHSAA State Softball Playoffs

By MIKE STROM // GeauxPreps Contributor

A decade has passed since St. Thomas More won consecutive state championships in softball.

The Lady Cougars are poised as the No. 1 seed in the Division I Select state playoffs to end that drought.

“I think we have as good of a shot as anybody in our division,’’ St. Thomas More coach Andria Waguespack, who is in her 21st season at the Lafayette Catholic school, said Wednesday. “The top eight (seeds) in our division is up for grabs. I think we have just as good a shot as anybody else.

“Division I Select is going to be a dogfight. And it’s a one-game (single-elimination) affair. So if you have a rough day, you’re in a bind, because the top eight teams in our division are pretty salty one through eight. So it’s going to be a dogfight and we’re looking forward to it.’’

In addition to St. Thomas More, Buckeye, Calvary Baptist, Opelousas Catholic and Grace Christian are top seeds in Select Divisions II, III, IV and V respectively in the state playoffs pairings announced Wednesday by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association. Similar to St. Thomas More, Buckeye and Calvary Baptist are top-seeded, reigning Select state champions.

Dutchtown is the No. 1 seed in Division I Non-Select and favorite to unseat reigning state champion St. Amant despite being eliminated in the first round of the 2023 playoffs. Reigning state champion North DeSoto, Sterlington, Logansport and Quitman are top seeds in Non-Select Divisions II, III, IV and V respectively.

North DeSoto is the lone reigning state champion to earn a No. 1 seed among the five Non-Select divisions.

Bi-District first-round play begins this week with all games required to be completed by Saturday. Regional play must be completed by April 17 and quarterfinals by April 20 in advance of the Ochsner LHSAA Softball State Tournament scheduled for April 26-27 at Frasch Park in Sulphur. The state tournament features semifinals and final games for all 10 LHSAA divisions.

Playoffs brackets for Non-Select Division I, II, III, IV and V participants each feature 26-team fields with the top six seeds earning first-round byes in bi-district.

Playoff brackets for Select Division I, II, III and IV participants each have 24-team fields with the top 8 seeds earning first-round byes in bi-district while Division V has an 8-team field that begins play with all 8 teams advancing to the state quarterfinals.

An eight-time state champion as a program, St. Thomas More (27-3) earned a first-round bye in Division I Select bi-district and faces the winner between No. 16 Northwood-Shreveport and No. 17 John Ehret in next week’s regionals.

The Lady Cougars, who last won consecutive state titles in 2013 and 2014 under Waguespack, defeated Denham Springs, 15-0, in their regular-season finale on Tuesday after falling to Academy of Our Lady, 11-9, Saturday in the second of two games played in a St. Thomas More Tournament this weekend. The Lady Cougars are 9-1 in their last 10 games.

“We’re looking forward to the playoffs,’’ STM’s Waguespack said. “The season really flew by this year. We are ready to go and looking forward to these last final days of getting that practice time in and sharpening up the things we need to, but looking forward to the playoffs.’’

Junior catcher Shyanne Irvin, Most Valuable Player in the Division I Select state tournament in 2023, is one of five returning starters from last year’s 33-3 state champions that graduated seven seniors.

Center fielder and leadoff hitter Emma Bailey, shortstop Kennedy Stutes, third baseman Ava Segura, right fielder Logan Raupp and pitcher Margaret Oge are STM’s other top players, with Bailey, Stutes and Oge being returning starters. Bailey, Stutes, Segura, and Raupp also are juniors while Oge is a sophomore.

Oge is STM’s new primary pitcher after having shared pitching duties last season with graduated senior Ava Prejean. Oge pitched in both the semifinals and final and was on the mound to record the final out of the championship game, a 7-3 victory against No. 2 Tioga.

“It’s a big concern every year when you lose such a big (group),’’ Waguespack said. “I had seven seniors who were not only good softball players, but just great leaders. So when you lose that large of a group, it changes your team culture significantly. A lot of our kids who started last year are in new positions. We lost our entire left side so we did some shuffling. Anytime you have that, you always wonder how that will come together.

“It’s been a process over the course of the season and we’ve been getting a little better and a little better and finding ways to win and overcoming obstacles. I will say that my kids have continued to work hard and trust in the process and find ways to win games as we build on that team culture and try to make sure that we’re firing on all cylinders at the right time of the year.’’

John Curtis (21-6), Tioga (23-6) and Mount Carmel (16-6) round out the top four seeds respectively in Division I Select behind St. Thomas More while Vandebilt Catholic (25-5), Hannan (23-6) and E.D. White (20-9) complete the first four in Division II Select behind Buckeye (23-7). Vandebilt Catholic was state runner-up in 2023.

Division III Select top seed Calvary Baptist (31-2) owns the most victories of any LHSAA softball team in 2024. St. Charles Catholic (20-5), Houma Christian (20-9) and Holy Savior Menard (20-10) are seeds Nos. 2-4 behind Calvary Baptist.

Opelousas Catholic (21-6) is joined by Catholic-Pointe Coupee (18-14), reigning state champion Riverside (18-7) and St. Frederick (18-8) as the top four seeds in Division IV Select while Grace Christian (21-6), Family Community (13-9), reigning champion Claiborne Christian (11-10) and Northside Christian (11-8) carry the top seeds respectively in Division V Select.

Top-seeded Division I Non-Select Dutchtown (21-6) was knocked out of the first round of the playoffs last season as a No. 13 seed beaten by No. 20 Barbe, 5-4. The Lady Griffins have rebounded to pace Division I Non-Select’s top four seeds that are completed by Southside (19-7), reigning champion St. Amant (21-10) and Ponchatoula (22-7).

Reigning champion North DeSoto (27-4), Lutcher (20-7), Brusly (24-6) and North Vermilion (22-6) are the top four seeds respectively in Division II Non-Select while Sterlington (27-1), Doyle (21-5), Kinder (24-4) and defending champion Kaplan (26-5) are the top four in Division III Non-Select.

Logansport (22-7), Oak Grove (15-6), Montgomery (24-7) and LaSalle (14-10) are the top four seeds in Division IV Non-Select while reigning champion French Settlement (16-10) is the No. 5 seed.

In Division V Non-Select, Quitman (25-4), Zwolle (28-4), Choudrant (18-5) and Bell City (13-9) are the top four seeds with defending champion Converse (14-8) a No. 5 seed.

The goal for all is a reservation at the North Frasch Park Softball Complex in Sulphur come the fourth Friday in April when championship aspirations come front and center.

“We’re going to give it our best shot,’’ STM’s Waguespack said. “It’s so hard to do (to get back to the championship game). Anybody who’s coached this will tell you, you have to have a little luck and you have to be playing very good at the right time.

“We’re certainly going to give it everything we got and hope we have an opportunity to play on the last day. But it’s hard. It’s hard to do. But the goal is to be in Sulphur and give ourselves a chance to have back-to-back.’’