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Editor/Consulting Writer

It doesn’t take long for Cullen Matherne to identify the attributes that have guided his Opelousas Catholic girls softball team to its current first-place statewide ranking.

A deep and effective pitching staff, defensive efficiency and players that possess state tournament experience, Matherne says, are so far establishing 2024 as a memorable year for the Vikings, who have won 14 of 19 games.

When the Louisiana High School Athletic Association power rankings were released last week, OCS was at the top of Division IV.

That ranking has not come without some effort, as the Vikings have played three other No.1-power-ranked teams from other LHSAA divisions.

It’s also been a personally enjoyable run for Matherne, the Vikings’ head football coach who is coaching his first full season in the OCS softball program.

What’s Been Working

Watching his hitters routinely slam pitches over fences is not something the Vikings have displayed often this season.

However Matherne doesn’t seem worried about that.

Instead, Matherne says, OCS has a penchant for manufacturing runs in a variety of ways.

“We could be described as a tough-out type of team. We are pretty scrappy, we like to run, bunt and move our runners around. We have 60 steals already this season,” says Matherne.

Examining The Essentials

The pitching circle has been a component that has been essential, according to Matherne.

Ashley Little, Kaydence Faul and Jordan White are providing pitching experience that has been handled successfully by catcher Brooklyn Gerald, Matherne says.

Little, a junior, has recorded over 500 career high school strikeouts, while Faul and White have featured their share of mound victories.

“Defense and pitching, that’s been what we have relied on all year to be successful. We’ve won a lot of low scoring games and that’s attributable to the way we have performed within the circle and in the field,” Matherne says.

Little, Matherne points out, treats pitching as more of a craft and her attention to preparation is reflective for what she has accomplished.

“We have reliability with all of our pitchers. (Little) works harder than anyone I know. She’s so self-motivated, but we don’t lean totally on her. We like to spread our pitchers out, so none of them wear out,” says Matherne.

Gerald has now handled the Vikings’ pitchers for four years.

The Experience Ingredient

There is more than sufficient experience in the rest of the OCS lineup.

Gerald, first baseman Hallie Lavergne, second baseman Alexis Lafleur, and outfielders Regan Butler, Faul and Madison Ludeau are all seniors.

Shortstop Madison Gussman is a sophomore, while third baseman Grace Luna is a junior

“We do have a senior-heavy group, one that has been to Sulphur the last two years, so they are used to winning,” Matherne points out.

There are other players currently on the roster who are talented and Matherne admits there are more options when it comes to his pitching staff.

Looking At Scheduling

The Vikings haven’t been unchallenged.

OCS has played currently top-ranked St. Thomas More, North DeSoto and Quitman, a Class C team that normally competes for state championships.

The Vikings have also played perennial softball power Kaplan, with Loreauville and No. 1-ranked Buckeye from Division II non-select, are part of the remaining schedule.

Also remaining is an Easter-week STM-hosted select tournament in Broussard, which features several of the state’s top-ranked programs.