LSUE players Karli Ortego (left) and Sara Tate (right) pose with the NJCAA Division II National Championship Trophy after the Lady Bengals’ 10-5 victory over Phoenix College in the title game recently. Both Ortego and Tate were teammates at Pine Prairie High School. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Bonnette)
The last time Sara Tate and Karli Ortego wore purple and gold uniforms together they were hauling in the Dixie Belles National Championship trophy.
Move ahead four years later and the duo from Pine Prairie have done it again. This time the former high school teammates got the chance to haul in a trophy of a different kind; the NJCAA Division II National Championship trophy, as they helped guide the LSUE Lady Bengals to the title.
Oddly enough, Tate and Ortego laughed about the irony of possibly winning another title while wearing the colors of their past championship.
“We were talking one day and Karli said that wouldn’t it be great if we could win another championship wearing purple and gold,” stated Tate. “I told her that it would be so cool if that would happen. We just kind of laughed it off. But, it looks like those are our colors.”
Ortego agreed the ability to take another championship title as teammates was a perfect way to cap off their time together.
“It was amazing to be able to share that experience with someone you have played with almost all of your life,” said Ortego. “We never did get to win a state title together in high school, but this makes it all worth the while. It will be tough not to have her as a teammate next season.”
Tate, a sophomore, will now move on to UT-Tyler as she has used up her eligibility at LSUE. The newest ring bearer for the Lady Bengals played at Baton Rouge Community College her first year out of high school.
When her coach at BRCC moved on to another job, Tate had a decision to make; stay with an unknown staff coming in, or move on. Tate decided on the latter, calling LSUE head coach Andy Lee and asking if he had space for her.
Lee, knowing the talent that Tate would bring, gladly brought her aboard under the condition that she would have to work for a spot on the roster and in the starting line-up.
“Coach Lee told me that he had his team set, but that he would take me on the team,” commented Tate. “I knew coming in that I would have to work hard to prove myself. It was risky because when I first got to LSUE, I was not on scholarship. But, thank God things worked out, because he was able to offer me a scholarship eventually. I just kept working as hard as I always have to contribute in anyway that I could.”
It did not take Lee long to see that Tate would be a major asset to his program. By the spring, Tate was starting in left field and was the lead off batter for the Lady Bengals.
Tate finished the year with .353 average and led the team in stolen bases with 44. She also scored 64 times and drove in 47 runs.
Ortego, a freshman pitcher who signed with the Lady Bengals last year, finished the season with a 4.67 ERA in nine appearances on the year. She was 1-0 on the season, striking out six and walking four.
Even though LSUE finished the year with a 52-6 record overall and held a 14 game winning streak at one point in the season, both Tate and Ortego were not one hundred percent sure if the Lady Bengals were going to be able to win the whole enchilada.
For Tate, it was actually a down moment in the season that gave her the idea that this could be a special season.
“We were on a big winning streak and we lost in a tournament in Gulf Shores,” said Tate. “But, even though we lost, I saw the fight that this team had. In that loss, we showed that no matter what, we were not going to lay down and just give up. That made me believe that anything was possible.”
Ortego, on the other hand, looks back to the fall as the time that she came to think that this team was special.
“During the fall, we had some rocky patches trying to get ourselves ready for the upcoming season and trying to get everyone on the same page,” stated Ortego. “But once we were able to do that, I could see the intensity in the team growing and growing. When the spring started, the competition that we played made us better and better. From there it was just a matter of putting it all together.”
Now that the season is done and the individuals on the team have retreated back to their own lives, both Tate and Ortego have had a chance to reflect on not being a part of each other’s lives next season.
“I am going to miss all of my teammates here at LSUE, but especially Karli,” said Tate. “As a team we were with each other literally 24/7 and shared so much. But, for Karli and myself, we have a bond that goes back a long way. It will be tough not to see her on a daily basis.”
Ortego also knows that not having Tate around will be a hard pill to swallow.
“This was an amazing year for me because I got to share it with Sara,” said Ortego. “I am going to miss her advice and help that she gave me this past year. I know she is on to better things though. One good thing is next year I will have some good friends joining me on the team when Jacie (McFarlain) and Karli (Fontenot) come here. I want to be a mentor to them, just like Sara was with me. I want to come back and win it all again next year.”