Notre Dame baseball coach Steve Soper said it was a significant step in the right direction.
After watching his team falter near the end of the regular season with four losses in its last six games, the Pioneers opened the Class 2A state playoffs with a 4-3 victory over Mangham.
The biggest example of No. 8 Notre Dame’s turnaround came in the next round when the Pios swept two-time defending state champion Kinder, earning a trip to No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas.
That best-of-three Class 2A state quarterfinal series begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday, with Game 2 at 11 a.m. Saturday.
“Our kids put a good weekend together,” Soper said. “We had to get over that 1½ weeks. We were struggling to get started, and the guys really picked it up and did an outstanding job. It’s amazing that the light just clicked since then. It’s nice to see. We’re playing some decent baseball at the right time.”
No. 6 Vermilion Catholic is another Acadiana area team facing a challenging road quarterfinal when the Eagles (19-11) face No. 3 Ascension Catholic (20-8) at La La Regira Field in Donaldsonville.
The Class 1A playoff game is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday.
“We’ve very similar teams,” VC coach Ben Harrington said. “We may have more depth on the mound. Their (No. 1) good guy throws hard and has a good curveball.”
NOTRE DAME AT ST. THOMAS AQUINAS: There was no way to underscore the importance in Notre Dame’s sweep of Kinder than the Pios’ ability to win Game 1 of the series.
Notre Dame (20-13-1) carried a 5-3 lead into the top of the seventh before Kinder rallied to tie it at 5. That set the stage for a dramatic conclusion on John Hoffpauir’s game-winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning.
With the momentum spilling over into Game 2, the Pios seized early control, and ace pitcher Joe Faulk, an LSU-Eunice signee, took it from there in a 12-6 triumph.
Faulk (7-3, 2.33 ERA, 56 strikeouts) will oppose a St. Thomas Aquinas team that carries a 28-2 record and has won its past five games.
“You’re not going to have that type of record without being an outstanding team,” said Soper, whose team is led offensively by designated hitter Thomas Stevens (.389, 20 RBIs, 19 stolen bases) and first baseman Jacob Vicknair (.352, nine doubles, 25 RBIs). “They’re able to put all three phases together and do it consistently all year.”
VERMILION CATHOLIC AT ASCENSION CATHOLIC: This game was originally scheduled for Thursday before Ascension Catholic was granted an extension by the LHSAA, pushing it back two days.
That means the Eagles will have gone a week since advancing to this round with a 2-0 victory over St. John-Plaquemine.
“I’m OK with it,” Harrington said. “Our guys will be ready. It gives more time for our pitchers to rest and get everybody 100 percent healthy. The extra rest won’t bother our guys.”
Harrington said that while he is leaning toward starting right-hander Gage Trahan (7-1, 2.41 ERA, 58 strikeouts), the team’s final pitching plans could also include either right-hander Harrison Vicknair (5-1, 1.75, 61 strikeouts) or left-hander Hunter Frith (6-3, 2.79, 61 strikeouts).
Trahan was the winning pitcher in VC’s regional win, throwing a two-hit shutout with five strikeouts.
Eagles catcher Emile Trahan is hitting .450, with one homer and 25 RBIs, and Frith is bating .432, with two homers and 25 RBIs.
“They’re a solid team with a couple of guys that can swing it at the plate,” Harrington said. “It’s going to be a good matchup.”