All this drama and tension that comes with playoffs, especially for a pitcher making his first postseason start? Maybe it’s a little overblown.
University High senior David Baker sure made that seem so Friday.
The Cubs opened the Class 2A playoffs with a 2-0 victory against North Webster behind Baker, who allowed only one hit and faced three batters over the minimum.
Designated hitter Steven Sensley drove in a pair of first-inning runs with a two-out double, and that was the sum total of the scoring as Knights pitcher Cole Gray nearly matched Baker zero for zero.
The only Knights runners to get beyond first base were the result of wild pitches, as Baker (5-3) struck out six and walked one to propel 14th-seeded U-High (17-14) to a regional matchup on the road against either No. 3 seed Catholic-New Iberia or Rosepine next week.
“He’s been our best guy all year long and he really stepped up (Friday) when we needed him to,” Cubs coach Burke Broussard said. “We didn’t have a great scouting report on (North Webster), but we knew they were good fastball hitters, so we told him he had to use his curveball a lot and work off that and he did a great job with that.
“We’ve had trouble getting breaking pitches over for strikes at times this season, but David saw early how aggressive there were going to be and adjusted really well.”
The only hit for North Webster (21-12), a first-year consolidated school in Springhill, was Cody Roton’s solid line drive to left field to begin the fifth inning.
Roton stole second base with no outs, but Baker reached down and struck out Brayden Howard and retired Dylan Modisette on a foul pop to first baseman Hayes Stewart.
With two down, Roton scooted to third on a wild pitch but Baker won a full-count battle with pinch hitter Taylor Murphy, whose sharply hit grounder was gobbled up by third baseman Zan Prejean, who fired to first in time to end the inning.
“Their pitcher really held us in check and they played great defense behind him,” Knights coach Chris Brooks said. “He had two and sometimes three pitches working for strikes.”
As well as Gray pitched, he took a while to settle in and that bit him in the first inning.
With one out, Stewart roped an opposite-single to right field and Gino Marucci punched a too-fat 0-and-2 pitch into left field to put runners on the corners. Sensley fell behind in the count as well before hitting a double past a leaping Ryan Stroud in right field to score both runners.
After that, Gray settled down and refused to budge. He gave up seven hits, including three leadoff singles in the final three U-High at-bats, but the Cubs couldn’t generate any more runs.
But they got the two they needed in the first inning, especially the way Baker was firing away.
“That was the biggest thing for me: to get the early lead,” Baker said. “I was pitching with a lot of adrenaline, and that gave me the kind of confidence I needed.”
Broussard said the two-strike hits were the result of a season full of adjusting.
“We work a lot on two-strike hitting and going the other way in those situations, and the kids did a good job of that in the first inning,” Broussard said. “We have a lot of veteran players and they knew we needed to get runs any way we could and the ones we got in the first proved to be pretty big.”
Added Brooks: “It was a well-played game where they got the big hit they needed and we didn’t.”
Sensley and Brandt Broussard had two hits apiece for U-High, which has won eight of its past nine games.