In the decade-plus I’ve covered high school sports and in my lifetime as a sports fan, I’ve been privileged enough to witness some truly great teams go to work. And sometimes, tragically for the players and coaches involved, that work isn’t rewarded with a championship trophy.
For the Hahnville Lady Tigers, such was the case when the team fell just short of reaching their ultimate goal. A heartbreaking 10-9 loss to Ouachita Parish in the Class 5A championship game ended their quest for the school’s first title since 2011 and to cap off their record-smashing season.
In my book, the Tigers achieved true greatness nonetheless.
I hope my words don’t ring hollow to the coaches and players on a team I felt lucky to cover this season. I’m the local sports guy, and as such maybe this will be dismissed as something I’m “supposed” to say. But it’s the truth. The championship is the ultimate goal, yes. Ouachita Parish earned that title.
But Hahnville put as complete a softball team as I can recall on the field all season long, and the resume of significant victories it put together this season was virtually unmatched among teams I’ve covered over the years. The Tigers won 24 games in a row and reached a top 3 national rank as per MaxPreps. Most of those wins came against other championship contenders and were decisive victories. They slugged close to 50 home runs, eclipsing the previous school record of 19.
Of the eight teams that reached Sulphur in Class 5A, the Tigers went 3-1 against them in the regular season and outscored those teams by a combined 39-12 score. Open that up to include Division I semifinalists and finalists, and it becomes 6-1 and a combined differential of 69-20.
Defensively, Hahnville was virtually airtight all season. On the mound, pitcher Karly Taranto silenced numerous elite hitting teams statewide. And offensively, I’m not sure I’ve seen a more devastating group. Leadoff through nine, anyone in that lineup was capable of taking one — or two — out the park on a given day. This was as great a team as I’ve had the chance to cover, championship or no.
In sports, we all know the mantra that it’s all about the championships. I disagree with that. The ultimate goal is the championship. But you can accomplish plenty of other things along the way. Winning 33 games is an accomplishment. Beating several others of the state’s elite is a huge accomplishment.
And for a number of individuals to come together, push one another and get the absolute best they can out of themselves and each other, that’s called becoming a winner.
I hope they feel like winners. I know they probably didn’t on Saturday night, because it wasn’t a fitting ending for such a special group. Not because they lost a game, but because the scenario that arose created just about the most painful kind of loss I can imagine, and they didn’t deserve that. At some point, after Sarah VanEtta’s semifinal walkoff home run, and how the Tigers stormed out to a 7-0 lead to begin the title game, I know it felt to me like a championship was this team’s destiny. It just wasn’t to be.
Setbacks can crush you or ultimately make you stronger, creating for greater opportunities in the future. Six Tigers’ starters were seniors and they won’t have another chance on the softball field. But for a group that proved to be so mentally tough over the past few years, my money’s on them using this as fuel to handle the adversity they face in the future and, ultimately, to accomplish great things in their lives because of it.
Because that’s what winners do, and that’s who the 2018 Tigers are. Congratulations on an amazing season, and know you played softball at a level precious few will ever be able to match.