Previewing the LHSAA Division I Select Baseball Regional Round

By MIKE STROM // Contributor

Despite being a reigning state champion, Jesuit baseball has spent much of the season flying under the radar. Till now.

But Jesuit’s MIA (missing in acclaim) status ends Thursday when the No. 9-seeded Blue Jays open defense of their Division I Select state crown in a best-of-three regional series at No. 8 St. Paul’s.

Much of the Blue Jays’ current lack of notoriety likely revolves around a pedestrian fourth-place finish in the New Orleans area Catholic League where Jesuit (20-11 overall, 7-5 in District 9-5A) trailed Rummel (21-7, 10-2), John Curtis (23-6, 8-4) and Brother Martin (20-10, 8-4) in the standings.

The Blue Jays additionally had to replace four starters to match up with five returning starters: left fielder Patrick Berrigan, pitcher/shortstop Jake Moreci, stellar utility man Everett Denny, right fielder Michael Brothers and catcher Luke Werling.

“We started slowly,’’ said Jesuit coach Kenny Goodlett, whose team downed Rummel, 1-0, in last year’s state finals. “We had to find ourselves. We had a younger team that’s not young anymore. We have a team that a number of our players needed more experience. We’ve gotten that over the games we’ve played.

“I think we’re playing well. I think we’ve been playing better as the season has gone along. We’re just waiting for this weekend to get to the next level and see what the future holds for us.’’

The Blue Jays are 13-5 since righting themselves following a 7-6 start. Jesuit also split each of their two-game District 9-5A series against Rummel, Curtis and Brother Martin, who all are seeded higher in the Division I Select playoffs.

Moreci (6-2), Denny (3-2) and Maes Martin (3-3) are potential starters on the mound versus St. Paul’s (15-13), with fellow right-hander Jay Comboy (0-2) the top reliever out of the bullpen.

First pitch for Game 1 is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday at St. Paul’s Heap Field in Covington with Game 2 set 1 p.m. Saturday followed if necessary by a decisive game three at 3 p.m. Saturday. The series winner advances to play the winner between No. 1 Catholic and No. 17 Pineville in the quarterfinals.

“We’re on the road and playing St. Paul’s in a tough match-up against a well-coached team,’’ Goodlett said. “But our boys are looking forward to it. (St. Paul’s is) a tough challenge. They’re a good team. They have a heck of a catcher (Cooper Winchester) behind the plate. They are a very athletic team that brings a heck of a challenge.

“We’ve had some good practices, spirited practices. The boys are anxious. With that long break (since the regular season ended on April 15) you’ve got to make sure that (the players) are up to par and ready to go. I think we will be. They’re excited.’’

Five Catholic League teams predominate the remaining 16-team field in the Division I Select playoffs that is headed by No. 1 seed Catholic of Baton Rouge (32-2). Four of the five – Rummel, Curtis, Brother Martin and Jesuit) – earned first-round byes in bi-district.

Third-seeded Rummel plays host to No. 14 Carencro (15-18) from District 3-5A in a potential three-game series that begins at 4 p.m. Friday at Mike Miley Stadium in Metairie. Game 2 follows at noon Saturday, with Game 3 if necessary scheduled for 3 p.m.

Seventh-seeded Brother Martin plays host to No. 10 Tioga (16-11) from District 2-4A in a three-game series that begins at 7 p.m. Thursday at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium followed by a 4:30 p.m. Friday double-header should a game three be necessary.

The last Catholic League pairing involves No. 2 seed John Curtis playing host to league rival and No. 15 seed St. Augustine (15-18 overall, 4-8 in District 9-5A) at Harahan Playground in Jefferson Parish. Game 1 is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday with ensuring single games scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday and, if necessary, 1 p.m. Saturday.

The final four-team pod in the Division I Select regional bracket is being played in Shreveport with No. 5 Captain Shreve (26-8) and No. 12 Acadiana (15-16-1) facing off in a potential three-game series that begins Friday at Captain Shreve and No. 20 Byrd (11-21) and No. 3 Northwood-Shreveport (26-6) meeting in a series at Northwood that also begins on Friday. The winners of the two series, which conclude Saturday, meet in the state quarterfinals.

Rummel, state runner-up to Jesuit last season, is seeking its first state championship since 1997 and sixth title overall after winning the Metairie all-boys school’s first Catholic League championship since 2006. The Raiders face a Carencro squad that swept No. 19 Liberty, 16-0, and, 5-2, in the bi-district series to advance.

The Rummel-Carencro winner advances to play the series winner between No. 11 Riverdale (19-6) from District 9-4A and No. 6 Alexandria (17-10) from District 2-5A.

“I think we’re a relaxed group that is hungry to get back to Sulphur,’’ said Rummel coach Frank Cazeaux, whose Raiders defeated Catholic, 8-2, in last year’s single-elimination semifinals to advance to the finals versus Jesuit. “I know we’re anxious to play. When you play so many games in a week cause of rain and everything else, we’re anxious to get on the field and get going.’’

Right-hander Giancarlo Arencibia (6-2), left-hander Ryan Claverie (6-1) and right-hander Avery Williams (3-1) are Rummel’s likely starting pitchers versus the Bears from District 3-5A. Arencibia is a Tulane signee while stellar shortstop Mikey Ryan is a LSU signee.

The Raiders additionally are fired up about not having to face a Catholic League opponent in its opening series now that the Division I Select field has expanded. Another added bonus comes from the return to health of third baseman Gavin Nix from a hamstring injury that forced the standout junior to miss the final six regular-season games.

“We’ve just got to play,’’ Cazeaux said. “We’ve got to eliminate the mistakes. We’ve got to be able to take care of the baseball and throw it across the diamond and field it. We’ve got to be able to put the ball in play when it’s time to put it in play. If something comes up situational, we’ve got to be able to execute the situation.

“It’s going to be fun not having to compete right off the bat against somebody from our district, the Catholic League. It’s going to be fun playing a different opponent.’’

John Curtis seeks to better last spring’s advance to the state quarterfinals where the Patriots were swept, 2-0, by Catholic of Baton Rouge. The Patriots face the challenge of needing to beat St. Augustine twice after already downing the Purple Knights, 10-0 and 7-6, in their District 9-5A regular-season series.

“We’re playing good baseball right now,’’ Curtis coach Jeff Curtis said. “I think it’s going to come down to, as with anytime in the playoffs, who can make the play when the opportunity presents itself. That goes for both sides.

“It’s going to come down to a handful of plays. You just don’t know when those plays are going to happen, whether it’s going to be pitch one or the last pitch of the game or anywhere in between. But we’ve got to be prepared to make that play whenever that time comes.’’

Curtis’ pitching rotation is expected to include right-handers Bryce Hebert (6-1), Juan Washington (6-1) and Dagan Bruno (3-2) while St. Augustine can counter with right-handers Bryce Robinson and Tyrin Kirkland and left-hander Amare Cooper.

The Curtis-St. Augustine winner advances to the quarterfinals to face the series winner between Brother Martin and Tioga.

“St. Aug is a dangerous team and I know they’re a dangerous team because we’ve played them,’’ Curtis said. “So there is some familiarity there, which is an advantage because you are familiar. I think the disadvantage is that we’ve beaten them twice and that the second game was 7-6, (so) they obviously know that they can play with us and can beat us if a play or two goes their way instead of our way in that second game.

“So I think there’s advantages and there’s disadvantages. I would certainly like to wait to play a district opponent until the last game of the season, but it’s just how the pairings came out. I think anybody you play at this point of the season is going to have a chance to win. I feel that way really from this point forward. Outside of Catholic High, anybody can beat anybody on any given day with the teams that are available and certainly that includes our series.’’

St. Augustine has an advantage of having played. The Purple Knights swept two games from No. 18 East Jefferson, 14-0 and 20-0, in the bi-district round in a pair of five-inning games shortened by the 10-run mercy rule.

“I think we’ve gotten better every weekend and I think we’re almost reaching our peak,’’ St. Augustine coach Barret Rey said. “I just hope that we reach our peak Thursday and Friday and Saturday if necessary. We did not overload (the  players) with anything new because this series is going to be like every other series. It’s going to be who makes the least amount of mistakes and who capitalizes on the mistakes, and that’s who’s going to win this series.’’

The Knights do not view Curtis’ two-game sweep as a Patriots’ advantage in the playoffs.

“I think by now both sides agree that what happened in the regular season gets thrown out of the door,’’ Rey said. “I’ve always told my team that if we’re able to maintain and then be really good in April, then we’ve got a really good chance to knock some people out. That’s where my slugger’s mentality comes from.

“We just want to put it all together by April and by then we’ll have a chance to do some damage. And that’s where we’re at right now. History has proven itself that we’re going to go out and compete with the best of them. I just pray that everything goes right that we’re able to get after it on Thursday.’’

Brother Martin entered the season as reigning Catholic League champion, but despite a veteran cast could not keep pace with Rummel down the stretch.

“We’ve been a little bit inconsistent,’’ Brother Martin coach Jeff Lupo said. “At times we’ve played pretty well and then at other times, especially in some crucial parts of games, we’ve had some lapses. But we ended the season with a big win versus Destrehan. We also beat a really good St. Aug team. In those two games we played really well.

“We’ve had a good week of practice since then, so I feel like we’ve done pretty well. I think more than anything else we try to focus on us. Like I’ve told the kids many times, it’s often times the team in our own dugout that beats you more than anything else. We’re kind of living that story a little bit.’’

Right-handers Cole Navarro, Blaise Tingstrom, Ryan Darrah and Frank Randol will team with left-handers Jude Tingstrom and Patrick Laiche to supply the lion’s share of the Brother Martin pitching.

“We were counting on pitching to be our strength at the beginning of the year,’’ Lupo said. “At times we’ve been inconsistent. So hopefully we can have our guys round into form and this week off has allowed them to re-focus and re-group and work on some fundamentals and mechanics to iron some kinks out and allow us to find the strike zone a little more consistently.

“I’m interested in seeing how our guys compete. I think if we play the way we’re capable of, we’ve got a chance to compete with a lot of people. It’s just a matter of whether we can be consistent or not.’’