Crowning achievement: Catholic High wins first baseball national title in MaxPreps’ final top 25 rankings

by: William Weathers // Contributor

To borrow a golf analogy, Catholic High’s baseball team has been the leader in the clubhouse for more than a month waiting on the rest of the competition to finish play.

The Bears (38-2) found out Tuesday they were indeed national champions when MaxPreps released its final Top 25 national rankings.

Catholic High of Baton Rouge set a school record for victories in a season with a 5-0 win over John Curtis for the Division I select state championship.

LSU signee William Schmidt pitched a one-hit gem in the final that completed a stretch of 20 consecutive wins to close the 2024 season.

More than two weeks later Catholic was notified of its first national championship in school history – in any sport – by MaxPreps of its sterling accomplishment.

“It’s such a full heart feeling,” Catholic baseball coach Brad Bass said. “To know you set out on this journey to accomplish it and you got it done. The guys stayed focused throughout the whole season. It’s a true testament to the kids in our program, the assistant coaches that we have in this program. Those kids took us for a ride that will last a lifetime for us.”

Bass, who knew of MaxPreps’ impending final ranking, received a congratulatory text message at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday from his father, Bennett, with a screenshot of MaxPreps’ final poll with Catholic High ranked No. 1.

Tomball, Texas (37-3) was second followed by Brother Rice (38-1) of Bloomfield, Mich., Corona, Calif. (30-3) and Orange (Calif.) Lutheran (28-7).

Catholic is the first school from Louisiana since Barbe of Lake Charles to win MaxPreps’ national championship. The Buccaneers twice achieved the feat, the last time in 2021.

“We were all excited,” Catholic junior left fielder Noah Lewis. “We’ve waited to see if we were going to claim that No. 1 spot. We were getting anxious and whenever it came out today, I know we were all excited.”

Bass said he shared the news of the program’s accomplishment in a group text with the entire team and their families.

Those are the two groups five months ago, during the team’s inaugural banquet for the 2024 season, Bass shared his vision for the upcoming season.

“I said publicly it at our First Pitch banquet this year that our goal was to win a national championship … in front of our all of our families and players,” said Bass, who picked up his 400th career win during his 13th season at the school. “Everybody knew the direction we wanted to go. At some point it’s outside of your control. You put your head down, go to work and let’s see where the chips fall.

“If people aren’t laughing at your goals, they’re not big enough,” Bass said. “I’m sure when I said that at the banquet, there were probably some snickers and giggles. I believed it. These kids believed it and what an awesome feeling. I know my feet haven’t touched the ground today.”

Catholic was ranked among the nation’s top 20 teams during 2023 regular season, but fell to Archbishop Rummel in the state semifinals and were not part of MaxPreps’ final rankings.

When Bass constructed another national caliber schedule where two out-of-state tournaments with nationally ranked teams looming, the Bears showed they were able to focus on the task at hand which was a Division I state championship.

“Last year we had the goal of a national championship and thought we were going to win it with the team we had,” Lewis said. “We wanted to see if we had the team to make it back again. When we were playing good we all knew this was a team that was going to get it done.”

The byproduct of playing a demanding scheduled, that included a 6-0 record against teams ranked in the top 25 at the time of competition, was a team that remained in contention for something truly special after beginning the season 17-0.

The Bears reached that juncture with a 10-4 victory on March 15 over Farragut of Knoxville, Tenn., a team that went 40-5 and finished ranked No. 10 by MaxPreps.

“This is an unbelievable class,” Bass said. “What they helped do was raise the bar for everybody. Every other class that comes after this, especially this senior class, it’s expected to be the same selfless type leaders as these were. It doesn’t mean the outcomes will happen like this year, but that’s where the focus needs to be.”

Catholic had plenty of time to atone for its lone blemishes in March.

Winter Park (Fla.) stopped Catholic’s opening win streak at 17 with a 4-3 victory came in the final game of a grueling six-game week.

Two games after first peaking at No. 1 in the country, the Bears suffered a 4-1 defeat at Mandeville.

“We all knew at one point we were ranked No. 1 and then lost the next game,” Lewis said. “We wanted to stop thinking about that and said, ‘let’s try and go win a state championship.’ We all knew we could get that done and then when we did that, we knew we were good enough to win this thing. We all had our goals set on the state championship because we lost it last year and we had to get it back this year.”

Lewis, one of the state’s top players in the Class of 2025, was among a star-studded group with 12 players either signed or committed to play in college.

Senior pitcher William Schmidt (10-0, 0.44 ERA, 102 Ks in 62.3 innings) is an LSU signee that’s expected to hear his name called in the first round of next month’s Major League Draft.

Not only was he the team’s Most Outstanding Player in the Division I select state tournament, but the 6-foot-5 fireballer was also the District 4-5A MVP, Class 5A Player of the Year and state’s Gatorade Player of the Year.

His 9-strikeout gem in the state final helped Catholic to its 20th straight win and kept the Bears ranked first nationally.

Catholic had five players named to the Class 5A All-State first team, a group that included junior shortstop Jack Ruckert (LSU commitment), junior catcher Andrew Clapinski, senior center fielder Brooks Wright (UL-Lafayette signee), senior third baseman/pitcher Trip Dobson (Houston signee) and Schmidt.

“This is probably the best team I’ve played on in my life,” said Lewis, a UL-Lafayette commitment. “Not even just skill wise, but family wise and we were all in this together. We had so many leaders on this team, and nobody was selfish. Even the seniors that were on the bench and cheering for you. They just wanted you to get the job done.”