Follow my lead: Opelousas Catholic looks to mimic its softball team and bring home state baseball title

by William Weathers // Contributor

Less than a week after Opelousas Catholic’s softball team won the Division IV select state championship, talk on the cozy campus in St. Landry Parish has shifted to their male counterparts.

Can the Vikings baseball team – also the division’s top-seeded team – match the accomplishment of the school’s softball squad?

“They get along so well together,” Opelousas Catholic baseball coach Justin Boyd said of the two programs. “They kind of push each other, too. Now they’re probably saying, ‘This is what we did, what are y’all going to do?’ It’s a little friendly competition.”

Opelousas Catholic (27-6), which has won 19 of its last 21 games, hosts No. 8 St. Frederick (18-8) in a Division IV select quarterfinal that was moved to 4 p.m. Saturday because of the threat of inclement weather.

The winner meets the Riverside-Central Catholic of Morgan City winner at 5:30 p.m. May 7 in the state tournament at McMurry Park in Sulphur.

“The end goal was to win it all, but we’re focused on the next round,” Boyd said. “We played them last year (10-0 regional win) and they have some good kids and good players. I know they’re hungry to redeem themselves from last year’s loss.”

Opelousas Catholic has among the state’s top teams in Division IV throughout the year with a club that returned seven starters and three pitchers from a team that went 24-10 and advanced to the state semifinals. The Vikings lost 7-3 to eventual state champion Ouachita Christian, which was eliminated in Wednesday’s quarterfinal by Glenbrook.

The Vikings discovered they had championship traits early when freshman catcher Myles Collins took over after two games into the season because of an injury and the team never wavered.

Moreover, the team has also had find solutions on the mound when returning pitchers Jordan Luna, an LSU Eunice signee, and Taylor Hollier, a Baton Rouge Community College signee, missed significant time with injuries.

Luna (2-1, 1.05 ERA, 40 Ks, 26.2 IPs) has returned to the rotation and was the winning pitcher in OCHS’ 11-3 regional win over Cedar Creek. He allowed two hits over five innings and struck out nine.

Hollier (3-0. 2.14, 17 Ks) has been slowed in his recovery and has been limited to opportunities out of the bullpen.

“We’ve had some kids that weren’t from last year that have helped us out this year,” Boyd said. “We’ve had an awesome year so far.”

To prepare his veteran-laden team for another deep postseason run, Boyd put together another challenging schedule that included an early season tournament in Sulphur with out-of-state competition.

The Vikings have recorded wins over eight teams currently in the state playoffs, including two-time Division III state champion St. Charles Catholic.

Over the course of the team’s final 20 games of the regular season the Vikings won 18 of those with setbacks to only Iowa of Division II and Parkview Baptist of Division III – both of whom are playing in state quarterfinal competition this week.

“My goal was for us to see everything that we could leading into the playoffs so that way we’ve seen this already,” Boyd said. “That we competed against this type of type or this type of arm, this type of lineup. We could have played some other teams and gotten more wins, but I knew they could handle this. We had some depth that allowed us to stay in those games even though we didn’t win them all.”

OCHS’ depth on the mound is rare in Division IV and a big part why the Vikings are seeded No. 1 and considered one of the favorites to win this year’s state title.

Senior right-hander Dontre Henry, a Miles College signee, is 5-0 in seven starts with a 0.946 ERA, 38 strikeouts and 19 walks in 37 innings.

The Vikings, who have a 1.924 team ERA, are also led by sophomore right-hander Kross Gillen (4-1, 1 save, 2.06 ERA, 42 Ks, 37 Ips, 9 starts), sophomore left-hander Carter Stelly (3-2, 1 save, 2.56 ERA, 33 Ks, 27 IPs) and senior right-hander Ben Wagley (2-0, 2.45 ERA, 16 Ks, 20 IPs).

“Our pitching coach (Randall Bulliard) has done a really good job,” Boyd said. “He has a lot of good kids to work with, gets them mentally focused and what they need to bring to the game.

“I’ve been telling them for weeks hats off to them,” Boyd said. “They’ve made this hard for me to pick who’s starting in the playoffs because they’ve all been that good. They have the same confidence that I do in whoever’s pitching that day. They’re all throwing so well.”

That pitching staff, which has four shutouts to their credit, compliments an offense that has a .347 average with 60 doubles, seven homers and 108 stolen bases with six players with 10 or more steals.

“We’re a good all-around team,” Boyd said. “I don’t think we do anything great. We do a lot of things good.”

Senior center fielder Mark Collins, a five-year starter and UL signee, tops OCHS in average (.495), hits (51), doubles (10), triples (8) and RBIs (39). He’s also scored 39 runs, stolen 10 bases and has a sterling .992 fielding percentage.

“He leads by example and plays 100 miles an hour,” Boyd said. “I have the benefit of having a lot of good players that push each other every day in practice. That makes it a little easier to me. They push themselves individually, but they also push each other. They want to be right there with the other guy.”

Collins’ younger brother, Myles, bats .405 with six doubles and 16 RBIs followed by senior shortstop Beckett Boyd, the coach’s son, (.385, 8 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 29 RBIs), junior third baseman Rowen Bergeron (.367, 8 2Bs, 3 HRs, 29 RBIs), Luna (.341, 45 runs, 9 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 11 RBIs, team-high 18 stolen bases) and Gillen (.330, 7 2Bs, 3 HRs, 27 RBIs, 10 stolen bases).

“Everyone wants to win the last one but to have a chance to beat some guys that gave us a loss at the end of previous years in high school, definitely means something to them,” Boyd said. “Getting them not to worry about that; just worry about the little white ball. We feel we’re good enough if we play like we’re supposed to, we can beat anybody.”