Family Christian coach sets bar high; players up for challenge

Despite winning the Class C baseball state championship last year, Family Christian coach Rick Smith didn’t set any lofty expectations heading into the 2013 season.

Smith added some higher-level teams like 3A E.D. White and 2A Dunham to their schedule, hoping to give his team an added challenge as they defend their state title.

“The truth is we made the schedule so difficult that I told the guys at the beginning of the year that I wouldn’t be surprised if maybe we were a .500 club going into the playoffs, and that was OK,” Smith said.

“I thought we owed it to the players to see a good level of competition. I thought that would keep our seniors focused.”

It’s safe to say that after a 22-4 season, the Flames answered their coach’s call.

All four of Family Christian’s losses came at the hands of 2A opponents as the Flames swept through all their Class C and 1A foes as well as four 3A schools.

Family Christian ended the year on a 16-game winning streak and carried that momentum into the playoffs with two double-digit wins, putting them back in the semifinals for the sixth consecutive year.

“They exceeded my expectations,” Smith said. “I knew they were going to be a good team, a competitive team, but they won more than I thought they would. The program was solid when I took over, and to continue that tradition that Robin Herd and the other kids have built is it special.”

It hasn’t necessarily been an easy task. Smith said the Flames have felt the target on their back all season, getting every team’s best effort night in and night out.

“I think the surprise is that last year we maybe sneaked up on some people that didn’t always throw their ace,” Smith said. “This year, it didn’t matter who we saw, whether it was a 1A, 2A, 3A school, we saw their ace almost always.”

More times than not, Family Christian answered with one of two aces.

Smith said his club touted two aces this season — one lefty and one righty.

M.J. Frazier, the southpaw, is 10-0 with an ERA of less than 1. The other ace is right-hander Ben Chauvin, who is 9-2 with an era “around 2,” Smith said.

The two seniors are both committed to play college ball — Frazier at LSU-Eunice and Chauvin at Baton Rouge Community College – have been part of a six-man senior class Smith said has carried the club throughout the season.

“All six of our seniors in some way, shape or form have displayed a lot of leadership,” Smith said. “Some are more vocal; others lead by example. They’re super mature, and they work hard. And they know how to have a good time. They know when to flip the switch and get down to business.”

Come Friday night, when it’s again time for business, it’ll be Frazier who takes the mound against No. 4 Maurepas — a squad he’s faced once this season in a 13-0 Flames victory.

Smith also made it clear he fully expects Frazier to boost his club into the state championship, where Chauvin will finish it off.

“We have all the confidence in M.J. to (get us to the final),” Smith said. “Chauvin pitched the big game last year, so he has that experience. He’s a bulldog, so I think we look to give him the ball in the championship game.

“I have a lot of confidence in those guys. I don’t lose any sleep as to who to trots out there.”

Family Christian has already beaten Maurepas twice this year, closing out the season with an 11-1 win.

Smith said the threat Maurepas can pose is the ability to string together hits in any given inning, but he also made his ambitions clear as his team heads back to Sulphur.

“I’m going to be disappointed with anything short of a state title,” Smith said. “I don’t even know if that is fair, but that’s just the expectations that we have. We have a lot of the same kids back.

“We feel like we’ve done it once, and we can do it again. That is our expectation. That is our desire.”