Zachary coach says 2013 team shattered mold of past teams

Jesse Cassard has used plenty motivational ploys during his seven years as baseball coach at Zachary High. Cassard said the apology he gave the Broncos right before the Class 5A playoffs began was anything but a ploy.

“About two weeks ago I took them (Zachary players) to the side and told them I was sorry,” Cassard said. “I realized I spent most of the year trying to make them something they weren’t. The fact is, they’re not like any other team I’ve had. They play with a lot of energy, but it’s a different kind of intensity. They play hard and do everything we ask. But they also understand that baseball is a game, and they keep it in perspective. Not all teams do that.”

Not all teams advance to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Class 5A baseball tournament, either. But the 10th-seeded Broncos (25-11) are in that number after a one-year absence. Zachary faces No. 18 St. Amant (26-9) in an all Baton Rouge area quarterfinal at 4 p.m. Friday at Tulane’s Turchin Stadium.

In many ways, a turbulent 2012 season seems like a distant memory. An early season brawl during a tournament game in Monroe with Class 4A Teurlings Catholic led to a playoff ban for both teams that was later lifted by the LHSAA. While Teurlings went on to win the 4A state title, Zachary lost to Hahnville in the regional round of the playoffs.

With the graduation of a large senior class, there were questions about the 2013 season. Cassard said the groundwork was laid last summer when it became apparent that several youngsters would earn starting spots. What happened next was a sign of things to come.

Cassard said the 11 seniors settled into varying roles while the Broncos experimented with a lineup that included up to four sophomores. Three sophomores and two juniors are set to start Friday.

“Everybody accepted roles,” Cassard said. “Now that’s not to say that we didn’t have some issues because we did, just like any other team. But the hardest thing for me was making the adjustment to this group.

“We like to bunt and run and play an aggressive style of baseball. And I was used to guys who were always in-your-face, which is more like my personality. These guys aren’t angels, but their approach is more laid back.”

Former Parkview Baptist coach M.L. Woodruff told Cassard several years ago that it was the coach’s job to be the chameleon and change with the team. Cassard has taken that advice to heart and so far it has paid off with two playoff wins, including a 7-4 regional win over Hahnville.

Northwestern State signee signee Evan Tidwell (10-2) or Trent Crowder (4-4) will get the start Friday. Left fielder Stephen Babin is hitting .422, while first baseman Kyle Vince has a team-high 30 RBIs.

Tidwell said Cassard’s apology surprised some players. Tidwell also noted while the Broncos want to emulate the success of past Zachary teams, they have their approach.

“Our senior class is trying to lead the best way we can,” Tidwell said.

“We’re not perfect, but we do understand how lucky we are to get the chance to play baseball. We’ve done community service and know there are lots of people who aren’t as fortunate as us. We want to make the most of the chances we have.”