Catholic League rivals meet again; Rummel and John Curtis set to clash in Select Division I State Semi-Finals in Sulphur

by Mike Strom // Contributor

Risk versus Reward.

Rummel coach Frank Cazeaux has weighed the aforementioned and decided there is insufficient value in saving Raiders ace right-hander Giancarlo Arencibia with an eye toward a potential state championship pairing against the monumental challenge represented by top-seeded Catholic of Baton Rouge.

Third-seeded Rummel (25-8) faces No. 2 John Curtis (27-7) at 2 p.m. Thursday at Field 40 of McMurry Park in Sulphur in one half of the Division I Select state semifinals pairings of the Ochsner LHSAA Baseball State Tournament.

Nationally-ranked Catholic (36-2) faces No. 12 Acadiana (19-18-1) in the other semifinals scheduled for a 2 p.m. first pitch at Field 41. The winners meet at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Field 41 in the Division I Select championship game.

“There was some thought (given to holding Arencibia) until we found out who our opponent was,’’ Cazeaux said. “If I didn’t think (John Curtis was) real, real good, Giancarlo wouldn’t be pitching. But we’ve got to get there (to the finals).’’

The rationale is not complicated.

“It’s real simple,’’ Cazeaux said. “Giancarlo does two things really, really good. He fields his position and he also holds runners very well. They like to bunt and they can really run. When they get on base, they’re taking off. So he will do a great job of holding them (on base).

Archbishop Rummel RHP Giancarlo Arencibia, a Tulane signee, has struckout 101 batters in 61 innings while surrendering just 27 hits for an ERA of 1.10 and a 7-3 record during his senior season.
Photo Courtesy: Rummel Raiders Yearbook Staff

“Our thing is you’ve got to go with your best guy. If you’re coming home from Sulphur and we get beat, I’m going to be (hanged in effigy) on that flag pole. (Fans are) going to have me strung up there. That’s the truth. You’ve got to win the first one. Then you worry about the second one. You could get five days of rain.’’

Rummel and Cazeaux’s quandary represents an age-old dilemma for baseball managers facing the single-elimination element of a state tournament particularly when the likelihood exists of facing a superior opponent in the finals rather than the semifinals.

Do you play to win the tournament by saving your No. 1 pitcher for the championship game and risk elimination in the semifinals, or do you go all in to win the semis and let the chips fall where they may two days later in the finals?

For Cazeaux, it was a no-brainer decision supported by hard-core data.

Rummel’s Catholic League champions swept John Curtis, 3-0 and 6-1, in their District 9-5A regular-season series with Arencibia no-hitting the Patriots in the opener. A Tulane signee, Arencibia has posted a monstrous senior campaign by striking out 101 batters in 61 innings while surrendering just 27 hits good for an ERA of 1.10 and a 7-3 record.

The Raiders also have a solid No. 2 starter in left-hander Ryan Claverie, a Loyola-New Orleans signee, who is 8-1 with 51 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings while allowing 27 hits and compiling an era of 1.18.

The wild card portion of this equation centers around last year’s tournament in which Arencibia and the Raiders bested Catholic and its ace, LSU signee William Schmidt, 8-2, in the semifinals before falling, 1-0, to Jesuit in the championship game.

There also is the challenge of beating an outstanding team like Curtis three times in one season in a winner-take-all scenario in the semifinals where nothing is a given. A nine-time state champion program, John Curtis owns the higher seed despite finishing two games behind Rummel, a five-time state champion, in the Catholic League standings. Rummel was 10-2 in league play while John Curtis and Brother Martin tied for second at 8-4. 

Cazeaux, in his 16th season and second stint as his alma mater’s coach, points to Rummel’s last state championship in baseball in 1997 in which the Raiders under his direction faced Catholic League rival Jesuit in the finals in a similar situation.

“I just keep going back to 1997 with the kids,’’ Cazeaux said. “We had to beat the Jays three times and we did. One was for the state championship. So you’ve got to beat them.’’

John Curtis faces no such uncertainty over which pitcher to start as the Patriots’ top three starters, senior right-handers Bryce Hebert, Dagan Bruno and Juan Washington, are similar in style and skills.

Hebert (7-2, 2.71 ERA) has been the No. 1 starter throughout the season, but Bruno (4-2, 2.96 ERA) and Washington (8-1, 1.88 ERA) were the winning pitchers in the Patriots’ 2-1 series win against No. 7 Brother Martin in the quarterfinals series in which Curtis had to win two straight, 10-4 and 16-2, following a 10-5 loss in the opener.

John Curtis senior RHP Dagan Bruno has a 4-2 record with a 2.96 ERA. Bruno is batting .393 AVG with 20 RBI.
Photo Courtesy – Bonnie Mitchell

“We feel like we have three good options,’’ John Curtis coach Jeff Curtis said this week. “Which way we’re going to go, we’re not 100 percent certain yet.’’

Curtis adds that, “Saying that (Rummel) swept us is a tribute to them. They’re an extraordinary ballclub. I felt like they were the favorite in the league coming in, doing what they did last year and making a run, coming up one run short, 1-0, to Jesuit in the state championship game.

“We’ve been on the side where you lose in the state championship game and you’ve got a good group coming back, and there’s a lot of hunger there. So they’re going to be a very, very difficult opponent to beat.

“I know a lot of people say it’s hard to beat a team three times in a year. I don’t particularly agree with that. Maybe if the matchups were dead even, I could see that. But with the experience that they bring back from last year’s team and how they’re playing right now, they’re going to be very difficult to beat. We’re going to have play really well.’’

Jeff Curtis additionally has faced a similar question as Cazeaux and Rummel in years past, point specifically in 2017 and 2018 when Curtis won its last two state titles, and opted to keep the big picture in mind in whether to start or save the team’s ace.

“That’s been the our mindset all along,’’ Curtis said. “We’re not going there to get a participation trophy. We’re going there to do whatever it takes to win a state championship and that’s going to be our mindset. We’ve done in that past as well.

“I can go back to 2015. We held Daniel Cabrera (out of) the semifinals and held him for the state championship and it worked out for us. In 2017 we threw Dax Ford in in the semifinals as a sophomore and held Ian Landreneau for the state championship and Ian throws a no-hitter for us in the state championship. In 2018 we threw Ian Landreneau in the semifinals and we held Will Ripoll for the state championship

“So I’ve been on that side. That’s our philosophy. We’re going up there to win it and do whatever it takes to do that. I think we’re in a little bit of a different situation this year with our pitching staff. I don’t think we have that one guy that is completely dominant and that can go out there and we know that he’s going to throw a shutout or give up one run.

“I can tell you it’s not an easy decision because if something happens and things go sideways and you don’t throw your guy and you feel like you have the best team, you kind of kick yourself when it comes to that. So it’s a tough decision. It’s definitely a tough decision when you feel like you have the best guy on the field and do I throw him or do I hold him. It’s tough.’’

In addition to Arencibia and Claverie, Rummel’s lineup features left fielder Ruben Ramirez, shortstop Mikey Ryan, third baseman Gavin Nix and right fielder Gavin Kennedy.

Archbishop Rummel’s left fielder Ruben Ramirez, who was named the Catholic League MVP honors batting .411 AVG, 17 RBI, 1 HR, .561 OBP, 30 SB.
Photo Courtesy: Rummel Raiders Yearbook Staff

Ramirez batted a team-leading .411 from the leadoff spot with one homer, 17 RBI, 30 stolen bases, 25 walks and 7 hit by pitches good for a .561 on-base percentage and .567 slugging percentage to earn Catholic League Most Valuable Player honors.

Nix, a junior, is batting .370 with 2 homers and a team-leading 30 RBI. Day, a LSU signee, is batting .364 with 3 homers, 20 RBI and 20 stolen bases. Kennedy is batting .321 with 18 RBI.

“We’re just going to approach this as a normal game for us,’’ Cazeaux said. “It just happens to be a district opponent. I don’t care if it’s Curtis, Brother Martin, Jesuit, Holy Cross, St. Aug or Karr, it doesn’t matter. We’re just going to approach it the same way we approach every game.

“Sure, there’s going to be a little adrenalin going because it’s one loss and you’re out. I tell you right now, our kids are ready to play. They are ready to go. I’m sure John Curtis is, too. We beat them twice during the regular season. I’m sure they’re very excited, too. Any team that walks into Sulphur is going to be very excited to play. They’re all going to be excited about playing.’’

Curtis will counter with a deeper lineup at the plate led by third baseman Brad Chaisson (.354 batting average, team-leading 6 homers and 32 RBI), pitcher/outfielder Bruno (.393, 20 RBI), catcher Tyler Mitchell (.361, 3 homers, 23 RBI), shortstop Conner Micheu (.352, 25 RBI) and pitcher/first baseman Hebert (.268, 28 RBI).

John Curtis catcher Tyler Mitchell is batting .361 AVG, 3 HR, 23 RBI.
Photo Courtesy – Bonnie Mitchell

“Everything we’ve done so far has been good, but that’s not going to win us a ballgame this Thursday,’’ Jeff Curtis said. “We’ve got to try to lock in and get focused and get ourselves ready to play and do whatever it takes to win on Thursday.

“Number 1, the key for us defensively and on the mound is we have to make sure we make them earn things. We’ve got to make sure that they’re getting hits. In the games we’ve lost or that we haven’t played well, we’ve walked a bunch and we’ve hit some (batters). When you factor that in with seven or eight hits, you don’t give yourself much of a chance to win that game.

“We’ve got to make them get seven or eight hits with one or two walks, not seven or eight hits with six or seven walks and two hit by pitches. That turns into 15 or 17 (base) runners. So throwing strikes and allowing our defense to make plays behind them is the key for us on the defensive side of it because I feel like we’re playing pretty good defense right now. 

“Offensively, those (Rummel pitchers) we faced had our number. Arencibia threw a no-hitter against us and we only scored one run against Claverie. I think he threw a four-hitter. Those two guys are really, really good. Arencibia gets a lot of the headlines and deservedly so. But Ryan Claverie has put together a spectacular season as well, including against us. He’s risen to the occasion for them and has kind of risen to 1B behind Arencibia’s 1A.

“So we’ve got to put together quality at-bats together against both of those guys. We have to try to figure them out and find a way to figure (the entire team) out.’’

“In the back of their mind, their mentality, they know we beat them twice,’’ Cazeaux said of John Curtis. “That’s fuel for the fire for them. But it’s the game of baseball. It’s not football. It’s not like you can jump around all over the place. That kind of stuff is not helping you (in baseball).

“By the time we opened district, Curtis was playing very, very well. So they came in playing very well into the district matchup. Then they got beat a couple of times in district (starting with Rummel’s district-opening series sweep). And now they’re playing very well again. We’re going to have to play very well to beat them.’’

For Rummel to advance, Cazeaux said, “We’ve got to hold the running game. We’ve got to control the short game for them. And Giancarlo has to throw strikes. He’s got to limit his pitch count. He’s got to have some quick innings, because he’ll play around with 115 (pitch count maximum) real fast. So we’ve got to make sure he’s ready to do. It’s going to be hot as hell. So kids have to make sure they are hydrated for sure. Anything could happen.’’

Particularly in a single-elimination event in contrast to the three-games series of the first three rounds.

“When it comes to this, I think you have to have all of your bullets ready to shoot in this game,’’ Jeff Curtis said. “And you’ve got to do what you need to do to figure out how to win that game. And then regroup and come back two days later and hopefully do the same thing.’’