Florien babies win one for Papa

Florien babies win one for Papa

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Florien babies win one for Papa

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The Florien administration missed a brilliant move when seeking sponsors for their 2013 Lady Cats softball team.

Pampers or Gerber would’ve been an ideal choice. To say that the 2013 LHSAA Fast Pitch 56 Class B state champions are young is below an understatement. They’re so young they drink PowerAde out of sippy cups and think getting a Happy Meal is a big deal. The Lady Cats still get coloring books and crayons when they show up at Shoneys, and they think Justin Bieber is an old man.

The above, of course, are jokes, but the following isn’t: Not a single member of the championship has their driver’s license, although two have their learner’s permits.

“But they have to have someone in the car with them when they’re driving,” acknowledges coach Bruce Stewart, who won his first state championship as a head coach after 29 years of coaching baseball and softball at Winnfield and Leesville before moving to the promised land in December when a social studies position miraculously came open.

Stewart knew what he was getting into when he decided to leave Winnfield, where he was tired of trying to win titles at a public school against private schools. The veteran coach took the one-hour drive to Florien in September to watch his prospective team play a fall-ball game.

“I called my wife and told her they looked like babies,” he said. As it turns out, some of them still had their baby teeth.

Pitcher Abbey McMillian, who pitched the team to the state title while leading the team in hitting, is just a freshman — and she’s one of the older members of the team. The Lady Cats went 26-4 on the season despite McMillian missing 11 games when she had her appendix removed at Sutton Children’s Hospital.

The big hitter in Florien’s 5-4 semifinal win against Grace Christian in Sulphur was 13-year-old slugger Haylee Tidwell. The starting lineup includes a sophomore, five freshmen, two eighth graders and a pair of outfielders a year removed from elementary school. Elder statesman and learner’s permit holder Adrianna Phillips took the leadership role in the team’s title win against Anacoco, collecting four RBIs after sparking a rally against Grace Christian with a double off the fence.

Not only are the Lady Cats young, they’re loaded with special Ks. There is Kayley Cahanin, Kaitlyn Foshee, Kaitlin Davis, Kaitlyn Sepulvado and Caitlyn Corley. Guess they had run out of K’s when Corley got to the front of the line.

Stewart, who left Sulphur for Alexandria not long after the championship game to be with his ill mother, hopes his team earns multiple trips to Sulphur and wins another title or two before the babies grow up and fly the coop. There’s no reason not to think a repeat is possible, since Florien won’t have a softball graduate for two more years.

And they play a daunting schedule in preparation for the playoffs. This season they beat 4A powers Neville and West Ouachita, before both advanced to Sulphur, and 5A Ruston. Two of their losses were against 5A playoff participants Airline and Natchitoches Central.

Freshman shortstop Bailey McCleary and 12-year-old Ryleigh Rutherford, who hits in the three-hole, were big reasons why the Lady Cats are holding one of just seven softball titles in April. The death of Rutherford’s grandfather, Mike Dunn, just as the 2013 season got underway, served as inspiration for the championship run. An unparalleled Florien softball supporter, Papa, as the Florienettes referred to him, announced batters at home games. Sporting white arm bands, giving the thumbs up sign when Ryleigh came to bat and pointing fingers toward the sky, the babies didn’t forget the biggest of Blackcats.

And they have a championship trophy to honor him with.

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