The story starts with a summer baseball team that uses a talented pitching staff to place second in a national tournament as 9-year-olds. The players then go their separate ways only to be reunited nine years later.
What sounds like a great script for a movie is set to become a reality this weekend at the Louisiana High School Coaches Association’s All-Star baseball games.
Runnels’ Alden Cartwright, Lutcher’s Corey Merrill and Dutchtown’s Cole Stapler, members of the Louisiana Baseball Academy Pelicans in 2004, get to play/pitch together again for the East squad. The first East vs. West game is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at North Park in Denham Springs. The teams complete their two-game series with a 12:15 p.m. Saturday game.
“We’ve wanted to play together again for a while,” Stapler said. “During the last couple of summers we’ve mostly played against each other.
“This is the first time we’ve all been together since we were nine. We’ve all signed with colleges. We did some good things back then and hopefully we’ll do it again this weekend.”
Cartwright (LSU), Merrill (Tulane) and Stapler (Nicholls State) all signed to pitch for Division I schools. All will be pitchers for the East squad. A fourth member of the Pelicans, LSU signee Jared Poche, also of Lutcher, can’t play this weekend because of a previous commitment. All four also were pitchers and played other positions for the Pelicans.
“I’ll probably never coach another team like that one again,” Pelicans coach Josh Constant said. “I was a young guy ... I was 26. And it was the first year I coached a travel team. Carey Ourso was my coach at Thibodaux High. He started Louisiana Baseball Academy and asked me if I was interested in coaching.
“His (Ourso’s) son was on the team. I was hard on them, but they were a special group. Four of them won state titles a couple of weeks ago — Jared, Corey and Chase Calderera all played for Lutcher and Blake Ballard played for Parkview.”
Constant, who now coaches the LBA Naturals teams in the Houma area, said the Pelicans won 11 of the 14 tourneys they played in that summer. The Pelicans placed second in two of the three tournaments they didn’t win, including the USSSA National Tournament played in St. Louis that Constant said featured more than 70 teams.
“The thing I remember more than anything else is that we played the championship games at something like 1:30 or 2:30 in the morning,” Cartwright said. “There was a rain delay and teams had to fly out that next day, so we had to get the games in.
“We had a great time. A couple of families brought campers, and we stayed at a KOA campground. We got to fish there. And we got to play baseball all night.”
The Baton Rouge-based Pelicans were unbeaten going into those early-morning games with the Houston Banditos and wound up losing twice to place second.
“It was really tough,” Stapler said. “Half of us were out on the field playing and the other half were in the dugout sleeping. But we had a great week.”
Merrill said many of the players and their families have stayed in touch through the years. Cartwright and Poche are set to be roommates at LSU, making good on a pledge they made to each other that summer. A couple of the players also have played together on summer teams as teens.
“It’s something when you think about it,” Merrill said. “What are the odds of all of us signing to pitch at Division I schools and all of us getting to play together in the all-star game?
“Once we get there Friday, I know we’ll have the chance to talk more and catch up with each other.”
Constant won’t be able to attend because he’ll be coaching a team in a Lake Charles area tourney weekend. Even with his current teams, Constant says the legacy of the Pelicans looms large.
“People ask me all the time to compare players. They ask if some kid today might be good enough to start on that (Pelicans’) team,” Constant said. “And the answer is always no. That’s how special they were.”
With an eye looking back at the past, the trio of pitchers is focused on making their mark this weekend.
When asked if he could script an ending, Merrill responded, “For all of us to have a great performance on the mound and to help our team win.”
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