Central Catholic's Brooks Thomas secures a catch while teammates Gunnar Theriot, left, and Carter Williams look on during game one of the Eagles' regional round series against Catholic High-Pointe Coupee Friday. (The Daily Review/Geoff Stoute)
CCHS heads to St. John for shot at semifinal berth
When No. 5 Central Catholic travels to No. 4 St. John for a Division IV quarterfinal series that starts Thursday, there will be some symbolism for the Eagles in playing at St. John’s field.
The Eagles, who made six straight trips to the semifinals between 2012 and 2017, recorded their first upset of the 2012 postseason with a 7-0 victory at No. 7 St. John. It was the first of back-to-back upsets against higher seeds that postseason.
Now, seven years later, the Eagles (20-10) will travel to face St. John (23-10-1) in a best-of-three series that begins with a doubleheader at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Thursday and an if-necessary game Friday. The games were altered from the original schedule due to the threat of inclement weather this weekend.
While the cast may have changed from the 2012 team outside of head coach Tyler Jensen and assistant coach Larry Lombardo, and Central Catholic is facing St. John one round later than in 2012, the Eagles will be looking for the same goal, a chance to advance to the state tournament with a series win this week.
Jensen said he and Lombardo talk about that 2012 game often, and Jensen said Tuesday that at that time, the St. John victory “may have been the biggest win that we had in a long time.”
He said he thought that kind of propelled the team in their run in 2012.
“Obviously beating (No. 2 seed) Vermilion Catholic the next game to advance was huge, but St. John returned so many guys (from) the year before, and we were able to go over there a get a big win,” Jensen said.
This season, St. John — the defending Division IV runners-up — enters the quarterfinal series after taking two of three games from Vermilion Catholic last week. After winning game one 2-1 in eight innings, St. John fell in game two 5-1 before winning game three 8-6.
Central Catholic played St. John in Central Catholic’s first game of this season, defeating St. John 4-2.
“I think really the only thing about playing them the first game is you can kind of put a name with a face, but they’re obviously really good, really solid, very well coached, really good pitching staff,” Jensen said.
The pitchers of record for St. John in their series last weekend were Grant Blanchard with the win in game one, Hunter Schurba with the game two loss and Taylor Dupont with the win in game three. Blanchard had a save in game three.
“I don’t know the exact amount, but they’ve given up very few runs all year, kind of like us,” Jensen said. “They’re very fundamental.”
In last weekend’s series, Adam Blanchard batted .363 with three RBIs for St. John, while Ben Bucher batted .300. Conner Barbee had a .285 batting average, while Grant Blanchard hit for .272 with three RBIs.
“They have a really good approach to the plate, obviously,” Jensen said. “They’re going to do a lot of things to put pressure on you, force you to make plays on defense, and it’s kind of what I’ve been telling our guys. We made too many errors last weekend. If we do that this weekend, we’re in for a long weekend because these guys, that’s their style of play — get on base, kind of force chaos, take advantage of mistakes.
“They may not score 20 runs a game, but they’re just good baseball players, and they know how to win and they know how to take advantage of every mistake you make,” Jensen added.
A week ago, Central Catholic rallied from a 1-0 series deficit against No. 12 Catholic High-Pointe Coupee for back-to-back wins Saturday. The Eagles fell 8-3 Friday and won 5-1 and 9-8 Saturday.
Central Catholic’s pitchers of record were Luke Barbier with the loss in game one, Caleb Menina with the win in game two and Nathan Hebb with the win in game three.
Offensively, Hebb batted .556 for the series with four RBIs, while Brooks Thomas batted .500 for Central Catholic. Hunter Daigle added a .333 batting average, and Carter Williams hit .300 with three RBIs.