The Airline Lady Vikings face the West Monroe Lady Rebels in the semifinals of the Class 5A playoffs Friday at 3 p.m. at Sulphur’s Frasch Park, site of the LHSAA State Softball Tournament.
Airline, the No. 5 seed, handed No. 1 West Monroe one of its two losses, 4-1, in the season opener for both teams Feb. 24.
The Lady Rebels’ only loss since then was 9-4 to Barbe in the Pineville tournament on March 19. West Monroe (30-2) has won 16 in a row. Barbe (29-2), the No. 3 seed, plays No. 7 Pineville (24-9) in the other semifinal at 3.
According to The Weather Channel, there is an 80 percent chance of rain in Sulphur on Friday.
The championship game is scheduled for 3 Saturday.
Airline’s 19-5 record is deceptive. The Lady Vikings are undefeated with senior LSU signee Raelin Chaffin in the circle.
Chaffin has allowed just four hits in playoff victories over No. 28 Parkway, 10-0, No. 12 Northshore, 3-0, and No. 4 Walker, 3-0.
Like Airline, West Monroe has one of the state’s top pitchers in Maddie Nichols. She has allowed just two hits and struck out 29 in playoff victories over No. 32 Slidell, 5-0, No. 16 Benton, 4-0, and No. 9 Natchitoches Central 17-0.
Chaffin and Nichols both turned in outstanding performances in the first game. Chaffin allowed just one hit and struck out 17. Nichols allowed three and struck out eight.
Two of Airline’s hits were home runs by Chaffin and Paige Marshall.
Airline is making its third straight appearance in the LHSAA State Softball Tournament where championships are being decided in seven classes and five divisions.
In 2018, the Lady Vikings fell to No. 3 seed Sam Houston 2-0 in the quarterfinals. Quarterfinal games are no longer played in Sulphur.
In 2019, Airline went into the semifinals as the No. 2 seed. The Lady Vikings led No. 3 Barbe 6-4 after six innings, but the Lady Bucs scored three in the top of the seventh to take the lead.
Airline loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the inning but couldn’t score and lost a heartbreaker.
Chaffin, Jina Baffuto and Paris Endris are the only key players remaining from that team. All three have played a big role in Airline’s success this season.
Of course, last year was a heartbreaker of a different kind. There was no state tournament after the season was suspended and subsequently canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Airline was on a 10-game winning streak when the season was suspended.