By Rubin E. Grant
Until Jeri Beck arrived, softball was almost an afterthought at John Carroll Catholic.
The Cavaliers fielded a team, but it wasn’t all that competitive.
“They weren’t used to winning very many games,” Beck said. “They needed some consistency. They had five different coaches over a six-year period before I came.”
Beck had been a successful softball coach for 17 years at Catholic High School in New Iberia, Louisiana. Her teams were frequent participants in the Louisiana state tournament, winning a state championship in 2011 and finishing as runners-up in 1998.
Beck left New Iberia after the 2013 season when her husband landed a job in Birmingham. She was hired at John Carroll to teach computer classes. She was approached about helping the Cavaliers’ softball team, but she wasn’t interested because she had something else in mind.
“At that point in my career, I didn’t want to be an assistant,” Beck said, “so I told them if the head coaching job came open, I would be interested.”
When the job opened in 2015, Beck took over. In five seasons, she has taken the Cavaliers to new heights. This spring, John Carroll advanced to the Class 5A state tournament in Montgomery, reaching the fourth round before being eliminated. The Cavaliers finished with a 29-10-1 record.
For her efforts, Beck is the 2019 Over the Mountain Journal Softball Coach of the Year.
“We’ve been building for five years, getting better and better,” Beck said. “Last year we won the area (Class 6A, Area 9) and got to regional and at the very least we wanted to get back to regional this year. Everything lined up and we got to state. At state, we took it one game at a time.”
Beck had a team filled with young players, including several from their feeder schools. The Cavaliers had only two seniors, third baseman Alyssa Barnes and pinch-runner Sydni Dysart.
They started a seventh grader in left field, Mallory Ogle; two eighth graders, Kayla Coley-Drayton at first base and Gracie Mills at shortstop; and a freshman, Charlotte Phillips, at second base. Freshman Macey Ogle was one of their top pitchers along with junior Abigayle Parker. Both played left field when they weren’t pitching.
Macey Ogle (14-4, 2.85 ERA) and Parker (12-4, 3.73 ERA) were voted to the All-OTMJ team, as were junior outfielder Emma Bauer and sophomore designated hitter Abi Allarde. Junior catcher Claire Boone also had a solid season.
Beck has enjoyed the five-year journey that’s taken the Cavaliers from losers to contenders.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said. “We started with the basics, the fundamentals and the rules of the game. Some of the girls who came to John Carroll had travel ball experience.
“Five years ago, no one ever expected this. There was no pressure and we just played to get better. We’ve built on that. Actually, it’s the girls believing we can win and owning that mentality.”
Beck believes the Cavaliers can become perennial participants in the state tournament.
“I think the expectations have been raised and the girls’ expectations of themselves have been raised,” Beck said. “They want to succeed and be successful and go out and have fun. That’s one of our keys; we do have a good time. Girls play better when they have fun. They also get out and play hard. It’s a happy medium.”