No. 1 Lutcher baseball back with veteran team looking to make deeper run in Division II

by William Weathers // Contributor

When you’re looking for defining moments in this year’s climb of Lutcher’s baseball team to the No.1 seeded team in the Division II nonselect bracket, the first inclination is to go back nearly a year.

That’s when the Bulldogs, also the top seed, won the first game of a quarterfinal series with visiting Lakeshore before being swept 8-2, 12-1 and out of the playoffs.

But Lutcher coach Ryan Jensen said you only have to go back 3 ½ weeks when this year’s team had a decision to make. The result of a 9-0 setback to South Beauregard also had far-reaching effects for a team that suffered its worst defeat of the season and second shutout.

“They beat us like we haven’t been beaten since I’ve been here,” Jensen said. “The game was much worse than the score. It was a big reality check. We kind of challenged our kids that night, to have more player ownership.

“It can’t always be coming from the coaches,” Jensen said. “We can’t have these expectations for our guys if they don’t have the same expectations. We have 11 seniors and they’re done after this, win or lose. This is the end of the line playing baseball here. It can’t be for people outside of that locker room or field. Since that day we’ve looked different. We’ve played differently. We’ve been a much better baseball team.”

Lutcher (25-7) went on to reel off eight wins in its next nine games, including a share of the District 7-4A championship, heading into its best-of-3 regional playoff series at home against No. 17 Jennings (18-12).

The series begins at 6 p.m. Thursday and continues at 4 p.m. Friday with the, ‘if necessary’ game set for 7 p.m.

The Lutcher-Jennings winner advances to next week’s quarterfinal round against the Rayne-North DeSoto survivor.

“The experience is the biggest deal,” Jensen said of his senior-laden team. “We only lost one everyday starter from last year. I think last year’s situation was a great learning situation for us because we had won it the year before and the year before we had lost in the finals.

“That group last year kind of expected it to happen,” Jensen said. “We won game one against Lakeshore and when we lost game two, I don’t think we handled it well. We were kind of shellshocked. They jumped on us quick in game three and it got away from us. That loss really hurt. I think it resonated with this group.”

Jensen sensed an attitude shift in his team’s play last summer that continued through the start of the 2024 season. The Bulldogs won 16 of 20 games before running into their longest losing streak of the season – two games – to Hahnville and South Beauregard over a four-day period.

Jensen lauded his team’s consistency against a schedule that’s proved challenging and one that uncovered flaws along the way, giving this year’s team time to remedy them for a deep postseason run.

Before last season Lutcher appeared in the last two state championship games, defeating Berwick 5-4 in the 3A title game in 2022, and falling 10-4 to Sterlington in the 3A championship matchup.

“I told them we won too much, the winning hid problems,” Jensen said of his 26-8 team a year ago. “The guys never recognized the deficiencies because we won. It’s been better this year, but that two-game losing streak was kind of that punch in the face that we needed.

“We kind of opened our eyes a little bit and said look, ‘Here’s what’s wrong. Here’s the things we have to change’,” Jensen said.  “They just proved they’re not invincible. The good teams are going to beat you if you don’t fix this. It’s been a positive change since then.”

With a pair of hard throwers in LSU junior commitment Marshall Louque and senior Quinn Smith, Lutcher’s features one of the state’s deeper and talented pitching staffs.

The Bulldogs have a staff ERA of 2.22 and have limited the opposition to a batting average of .199.

“We’re way more advanced in the depth of the arms that we have, and the confidence we have in those guys to go pitch in big situations,” Jensen said. “It’s a whole lot more comforting in the dugout.”

The 6-foot-3 Louque, a member of Louisiana’s first Little League World Series championship team in 2019 and first team Class 4A All-State selection, is a two-way threat with a 92-miles-per-hour fastball that’s contributed to a 5-2 record, 2.40 ERA, 62 strikeouts, and six complete games.

Smith, who also has a 90-plus-miles-per-hour fastball and is a Southeastern Louisiana signee, is 5-2 with a 1.86 ERA, one save and 61 strikeouts. Caleb Hastings, an LSU Eunice signee at catcher, is 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 24 strikeouts and Luke Babin, a Nicholls State signee, who’s 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 38 strikeouts.

The Bulldogs’ bullpen has seniors Kai Brown (3-0, 0.77, 9 IP) – a Nunez Community College commitment – Trayce Millet (0-0, 2.62, 13.1 IP, 5 Ks) and Brady Roques (0-1, 8.84, 6.1 IP, 7 Ks). They also count on sophomore Dane Bodin (3-0, 1.71, 20.1 IP, 24 Ks) and junior Ethan Detillier (1-1, 5.25, 12 IP, 8 Ks).

“We feel just as good with those kids starting a game as we do with Marshall and Quinn,” Jensen said of Hastings and Babin. “We’ve stuck with a rotation. Those guys have been good for us.”

With a pitching staff that’s combined for nine shutouts, Lutcher’s has an offense that bats .320, averages 8.68 runs with 71 doubles, 13 homers and 96 stolen bases.

“We feel like it’s a 1-through-9 (lineup) challenge and you’re going to have to make pitches to beat us to get us out or we’ll score runs,” Jensen said. “That comes with experience.”

Senior second baseman Brock Louque, a Nunez Community College commitment, tops the Bulldogs with a .509 average, 8 doubles, one homer, 27 RBIs and team highs in runs scored with 46 and stolen bases with 29.

Marshall Louque, also a shortstop when not pitching, bats .422 with 10 doubles, 5 homers, 30 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. He’s followed by Hastings (.373, team-high 15 doubles, 3 HRs, 33 RBIs), senior first baseman Colin Roques (.337, 7 2Bs, 30 RBIs) and senior outfielder Chaduthaddeus Carter Jr. (.325, 12 RBIs, 16 stolen bases) – a Nunez Community College signee.

“Our guys have a much different attitude just because of what happened,” Jensen said. “There’s a little more understanding of what it takes. You have to earn it. It’s not just going to happen just because you’ve got an ‘L’ on your hat.”