NEW ORLEANS — It was fitting that Clay Moffitt ended the Class 5A state baseball title game at the bottom of Catholic’s scrum, yelling and hugging teammates as they crowded Sunday’s unlikely hero on the mound.
Moffitt’s efforts during a 3-2 upset of Zachary in an all-Baton Rouge final served as a microcosm of the Bears’ 2013 season: terrible start, iffy in the middle, terrific finish.
Making just his second start of the season, Moffitt recovered from early struggles and a two-run deficit to pitch a three-hit complete game at Tulane’s Turchin Stadium.
“The kid is an absolute war daddy,” Catholic coach Brad Bass said. “The guy pitched the game of his life on the biggest day of his life. It was his game to win ... or lose.”
Backed by steady fielding and timely hits by Connor Whalen, whose solo shot over the left-field wall in the fourth was the first home run of the four-day, rain-delayed tournament, Catholic (26-13) overachieved its No. 21 seed to earn the school’s fourth state title and first since 2010.
Catholic is the lowest seed to win the 5A title since the new seeding format started in 2008.
Moffitt tore the ACL in his left knee during a Sept. 27 football game against Parkview Baptist.
Less than eight months later, he’s a state champion.
“I told myself, ‘It’s time to go,’ ” Moffitt said, thinking back to his first-inning troubles as he tried to place the ball.
He threw 28 pitches in the first, when he walked two, hit a batter and gave up an RBI single to Ethan Troth and later watched Andre Weber score on a throwing error.
Then he got back to what he does best.
“You know, it’s time to saddle up, cowboy up,” Moffitt said. “I put my hat down low, grabbed that ball and started throwing it, going back to what I know I can do. I can throw it hard; I can throw it down the middle.”
No. 10 seed Zachary (27-12), trying to win its fourth title in school history and first in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s highest classification, had no response for Moffitt after the first.
Despite averaging seven runs in the postseason, the Broncos managed just two hits in the final six innings. With no outs, runners on first and third and facing the top of Zachary’s lineup in the third, Moffitt forced Cade Milazzo to ground out to second, Weber to fly to center and Gabe Hannum to ground out to second.
“It goes from us about to blow it open to all of a sudden we don’t get a run and (it’s a) momentum shift,” Zachary coach Jesse Cassard said. “I don’t know how he did it because he was all over the place (early).”
Somehow Moffitt did, and his teammates took advantage. After Whalen’s solo shot in the fourth, Andrew Fournet scored on a wild pitch in the fifth to tie it at 2.
Catholic scored the winning run in the seventh. Jordan Romero reached when an outfield collision led to a fielding error. Simon Prevot, running for Romero, advanced to second on Corey Free’s single and third when Austin Devillier flied to center.
With two outs, Whalen reached on an infield single to third, scoring Prevot.
Zachary starter Trent Crowder also pitched a complete game, allowing three runs (two earned) and five hits. He struck out five and walked four.
Moffitt ended his fantastic day in the bottom of the seventh when Micah McHugh grounded into a double play, starting a celebration that he dreamed about Saturday night in his hotel room.
“Before I went to bed, I was visualizing it,” said Moffitt, who struck out two and walked three on 87 pitches. “When I hit on my two knees ... my hands in the air, being state champions and all my teammates and family behind me.
“I knew it was going to happen. From the bottom of my heart, I knew it was going to happen.”