Baseball coaches are notoriously famous for their devotion to numbers. Now that statistics are just an iPad click or a smart phone app away, it’s easier to access batting averages and any other percentage possible.
There are exceptions, and two Baton Rouge area Class 5A high schools, Catholic High and St. Amant High, provide an excellent case in point.
Neither team was rated high enough in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s power rankings to host a bidistrict playoff game. That didn’t keep 18th-seeded St. Amant (26-9) and No. 21 Catholic (23-13) from earning berths in the LHSAA’s Class 5A State Tournament that begins at Tulane’s Turchin Stadium in New Orleans on Friday.
“When the final power rankings came out we told our guys it was just a number and to go out and play,” St. Amant coach Troy Templet said. “I think power rankings are a good thing, but in 5A you have a lot of teams capable of going deep in the playoffs every year. So it’s harder to predict.”
Catholic meets No. 13 Sulphur in the first quarterfinal at 10 a.m. St. Amant faces another Baton Rouge area team, No. 10 Zachary (25-11), at 4 p.m.
“We play a tough schedule,” Catholic coach Brad Bass said. “Most teams do that, and there can be some rough spots along the way. But you do it to get ready for the playoffs. And once you’re in, anything can happen.”
The District 5-5A rivals have experiened different degrees of playoff success in recent years.
St. Amant won a string of state titles in the 1990s. The Gators are making their first tourney appearance since 2007. Catholic won the 5A title in 2010 and then advanced to the semifinals in 2011.
Both teams defeated top five seeds at home in Monday’s regional round to advance, illustrating the parity 5A coaches have lauded for years. St. Amant took a 6-2 win over No. 2 Destrehan; Catholic ousted fifth-seeded Jesuit-New Orleans 8-3.
Bass, in his second season at Catholic, said success in 5A is as much about expectations as it is statistics.
When the Bears lost to eventual state champion Barbe-Lake Charles (2013 top seed) in the regional round a year ago, Bass told his team something sophomore pitcher Ross Massey remembered before its win over Jesuit.
“Getting to the state tournament is the goal for us every year, like it is for most programs,” Bass said. “After we lost last year I talked to them (Catholic players) about how one team goes on, and the other turns its uniforms in.
“I told them next year (2013) we’d still be practicing on May 9. Ross Massey remembered that and told me we were going to be practicing on May 9.”
Confidence also is a big key for St. Amant. Templet took a page from Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder, who uses 16 goals for his team each year. Some goals are win/loss oriented, while others relate to attitude and/or work ethic.
Templet, now in his first full year as head coach, said the goal-oriented approach helped the Gators buy into the system. “As the season went on, they (St. Amant players) took ownership of what we’re doing,” Templet said. “You could see a change in their attitude.”
The two teams are linked by an late season sequence. Though Catholic lost games to District 5-5A champion Dutchtown, St. Amant and East Ascension in the span of a few days, Bass said he saw his team gain confidence daily in practice.
St. Amant handed Dutchtown its lone loss in 5-5A at the end of the year. That victory proved to be an important springboard for the Gators to beat Ascension Parish rival DHS again to open the playoffs.
Pitcher Ben Braymer (2-4) gets the start for Catholic. Catcher Jordan Romero (.455, 41 runs batted in) leads the Bears offense. Jacob Morales (.436, 36 RBIs) leads the St. Amant offense. Andre Liotta (5-2) or Connor Millet (4-2) will get the start.
“Our experience has created confidence and not cockiness, which I think can serve us well,” Templet said.