University High and Dunham are no strangers to each other.
The two schools have a long history of playing baseball in District 7-2A and have already met twice this year with the Cubs taking both games by a combined total of three runs.
But all of that goes out the window Saturday when the league rivals clash for the third time this season with much more on the line — a spot in the semifinal round of the Class 2A playoffs.
“It’s a big rivalry, so you can throw out any statistics or any other previous games or anything we’ve done to this point. It’s all going to be about this one-game series,” U-High coach Burke Broussard said. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve got to face one of our district opponents in the quarterfinal round, but we’re fortunate to be here and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Fourth-seeded U-High (25-6) has given up just one run in the postseason, shutting out No. 29 DeQuincy 4-0 in the opening round and taking care of No. 13 Sterlington 4-1 on Wednesday.
No. 12 Dunham (20-11) has already turned some heads in the playoffs after trouncing No. 21 Thomas Jefferson 20-1 in the first round. The Tigers then pulled off the upset on the road against No. 5 Northlake Christian 6-3, leading Dunham coach Joey Thibodeaux to say he believes his team is peaking.
“I’d have to say we’re playing our best ball at this time,” Thibodeaux said. “We were playing well, but just not doing the little things to get us over the hump. It looks like we’re finally pitching well, plus playing good defense. We’re starting to move the ball with men in scoring position.”
Thibodeaux chalked up poor base running as the primary reason Dunham fell short against U-High. The Tigers stranded 13 base runners in the first meeting and 12 in the second, so a timely hit or two could have been the difference.
The Cubs are on the road this time with a trip to Louisiana-Monroe at stake against the winner of No. 1 Calvary Baptist and No. 9 Rosepine.
“I think it’s going to be a good matchup,” Broussard said. “It’s a tough place to play and to win over there. They’ve got home-field advantage, so we’re just hoping we can overcome it. Our kids are going to give good effort.”
The postseason has become a nostalgic time for St. John coach Heath Whittington.
Whittington had to face his former team, Christian Life, in the bidistrict round of the playoffs, and in Saturday’s Class 1A quarterfinal matchup, he’ll travel to Westminster Christian, where he began his coaching career in 1996.
“It’s going to be fun to go back and see what has changed,” said Whittington, who began the baseball program at Westminster. “I thought we did a lot of good things when I was there to improve the program. We brought it up from scratch, and competed. I’m happy for Barry (Manuel, Westminster coach). I think he very deserves to be where he is. He’s worked hard. It is going to be a fun game.”
Sixth-seeded St. John (25-6) has squeaked by in the first two rounds, edging No. 27 Christian Life 2-1 and outlasting No. 11 St. Frederick 4-3 on Tuesday. Close games are nothing new to the Eagles, who have had six games decided by two runs or fewer. St. John is 4-2 in those games.
“We played a lot of tight games this year,” Whittington said. “I think all year long we’ve gotten over it quick if we make a mistake. We move on from it, and I think that’s a key to our success is not dwelling on the negative.”
No. 14 Westminster (16-11) held off No. 19 Hamilton Christian 4-3 to open the playoffs ,before upsetting third-seeded Opelousas Catholic 13-6 in the regional round Tuesday.
Whittington said he wasn’t surprised by Westminster’s postseason run, saying, “They’re a good ballclub. You don’t make it to the quarterfinals if you aren’t a good ballclub.
“I think they’ve peaked at the right time. They put the pieces to the puzzle together. I think their ranking was a little low simply because they’ve had the talent to do it all year long. Barry has done a good job, has them ready and he is going to play them well.”
The winner will play either No. 2 Mangham or No. 10 Hanson in the semifinals of the state tournament at the University of Louisiana-Monroe.