One of the luxuries St. Edmund baseball coach Scott Richard enjoyed in guiding his five previous state championship teams at the school was regularly filling out a lineup card with the same names in the exact positions.
This year’s team is not as uniform, instead the Blue Jays’ lineup has resembled more of a hodgepodge that has blended together at the right time.
“This is by far one of the most inconsistent teams I’ve ever been around,” said Richard, now in his 18th overall at the school and second since returning in 2015. “But at the end it’s been one of the most rewarding. Nobody expected us to win this year.”
After graduating its entire outfield and top pitcher from a state semifinal team, No. 18 Edmund (15-13) is within a step of a return trip to the Class 1A state tournament, hosting No. 7 Oak Grove (15-7) in a quarterfinal at 6 p.m. Friday.
“We’ve finally played up to the level of competition the last several games,” Richard said. “We’ve kind of rose to the occasion. We’re a young team. But the kids are playing hard, and that’s all we can really expect from them.”
An erratic nondistrict portion of the season, including a 5-8 start and a 9-9 mark with a month remaining, contributed to St. Edmund’s postseason being spent on the road.
The Blue Jays have responded with a 5-4 first-round victory at No. 15 Ascension Christian and followed with a 6-2 regional win over No. 2 Covenant Christian.
“Going into the playoffs last year, we had lost six games in a row,” Richard said. “Then all of a sudden we got on a run. The kids that were there had that in the backs of their mind. When you get in the playoffs, it’s a different story. We really started playing good baseball midway through district.”
Richard was tasked early with two things: trying to find replacements for his departed outfield and a staff ace.
The latter was substantially hindered when St. Edmund lost two pitching candidates to season-ending injuries, while the solution in the outfield became a series of trial and error before settling on a lineup midway through district play.
One of the biggest pieces that gave the Blue Jays a top-of-the rotation presence was catcher-turned-pitcher Gibson LaFleur. The senior has a 1.80 earned run average with 65 strikeouts in 62 innings, highlighted by a complete-game victory against Covenant Christian in which he allowed five hits and struck out four.
“He’s been that kind of guy, even last year when he was a catcher,” Richard said. “Now he’s turned into a pitcher and a guy that wants the ball every inning. He’s come through for us.”
Richard said his pitching rotation has counted on as many as four freshmen, while his offense has relied on senior shortstop Drake Brunet, junior first baseman Jack Brown and senior Cole Bergeron, the team’s seventh third baseman this year.
After previously losing three straight times to Westminster Christian, including the district opener, Richard said he noticed a difference in his team following 2-1 and 8-2 wins over the Crusaders in the second and third rounds of league play.
“It’s been a trying year. We’ve had some letdowns,” Richard said. “But now we’re finding ways to win.”