Airline softball coach Danny Roberts said he knew the odds facing his young team Friday night were long.
Visiting and second-seeded St. Amant brought its championship-laden program to Lady Vikings Field on Friday. After a slow start, the Gators pulled away for an 8-0 Class 5A second-round playoff victory.
“They’re a good squad,” Roberts said of the Gators, who are headed to the state tournament for the 14th time in the last 15 years. “They’re not 26-2 for nothing.”
Gators pitcher Kasey Nielson and Airline freshman left-hander Jamie Roberts each tossed scoreless first and second innings before St. Amant’s offense awoke.
The Gators left runners in scoring position in both of those innings before No. 9 hitter Kirsten Despino snapped the scoreless tie with a leadoff home run in the third inning.
Despino’s shot into the wind started a run of four straight innings in which St. Amant scored. A four-run sixth inning provided the final cushion.
“The communication we had with our pitchers was keep chopping wood, have a plan, work the plan, and let’s try to win every inning,” St. Amant coach Scott Nielson said. “When we were up 4-0 late in the game, we told the girls, ‘Let’s score here. There’s no such thing as a five-run home run.”
With the way Kasey Nielson was pitching, one run was enough.
Nielson allowed only one hit — a one-out single by Cheyanne Hutchins in the third inning.
Hutchins was the final Airline (17-12) batter to reach base, as Nielson retired the final 14 hitters she faced.
“Going in, I knew she didn’t throw hard, but she spins the ball so well,” Danny Roberts said. “All of her pitches, she really spins it so well. You can’t simulate in practice.”
Kasey Nielson finished with 11 strikeouts and delivered the final shot in St. Amant’s four-run sixth inning.
After catcher Brooke Roberts lined a two-run double in the sixth, Kasey Nielson followed with a two-run home run to cap the four-run outburst.
“I actually just kind of threw my hands at it and hit it out of there,” she said with a laugh. “I was kind of surprised that it went over.”
St. Amant’s big inning came as its hitters were in their third and fourth at-bats against Jamie Roberts, who was battling wrist tendinitis.
“She’s got bad tendinitis,” Danny Roberts said. “She can’t throw her movement pitches. We’ve got to change-up, and then spot our fastball.”
An accident delayed the Gators’ arrival in Bossier City, but they kept things normal and were able to punch another state quarterfinal ticket.
“Our timing was off (early),” Roberts said. “Once we got our timing down, we were good to go.”