SULPHUR — St. Thomas More’s senior class could go down as the school’s best.
The group of seven players — Brandon Romero, Brennan Breaux, O’Neal Lochridge, Hunter Langlinais, Harrison Pfeffer, Grant Cox and Hogan Harris — is the first in Cougars baseball history to have advanced to four straight state semifinals and to reach three straight state championship games.
The group of seven can add one final accomplishment to their impressive résumés: They’re the first senior class to win back-to-back state championships.
No. 2 STM took down District 5-4A and crosstown rival No. 5 Teurlings Catholic 5-1 in the Class 4A title game at McMurry Park on Saturday. It’s the program’s fourth state title, joining championship seasons in 1983, 1992 and 2014.
“It is unbelievable, really,” said Lochridge, who was 2-for-4 with two runs. “It is such a rush. We have worked so hard this season. We started off slow and gradually got better and better. Team chemistry was unbelievable throughout the year. We just pulled it all together and came out with a back-to-back.”
“Anytime you can win a state championship, especially against Teurlings, it is just a great feeling,” said Breaux, who was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.
For most of the contest, Breaux silenced the powerful bats of Teurlings Catholic, which was coming off a 16-1 win over top seed Tioga in the semifinals Thursday. In 6.1 innings, the LSU signee scattered one run and three hits while striking out 10, including five in a row.
“He was able to throw his curveball for a strike on any count,” STM coach Gary Perkins said. “I think that kept them guessing.”
Breaux displayed toughness and composure with the game on the line in the top of the sixth.
Teurlings Catholic’s Hayden Cantrell led off with single and was soon joined on the base paths by Austin Kirkpatrick, who laid down a sacrifice bunt but reached on a throwing error. Breaux would get Nicolas Webre to strike out while bunting but then plunked Caleb Lasseigne to load the bases.
Jonathan Fontenot stepped to the plate with an opportunity to put the Rebels ahead. But during Fontenot’s at-bat, Cantrell was thrown out trying to steal home.
“Breaux has balked in the past with runners on third base,” Teurlings Catholic coach Mike Thibodeaux said. “When he threw against Cecilia, he balked in a run. We were aware of it, so we talked about it and the play we called was a forced balk, but it was a breakdown in communication. Unfortunately it ended with us giving them a freebie at the plate. It definitely diminished our chances, and we didn’t overcome it.”
Breaux loaded the bases again after hitting Fontenot, but the Cougars star responded by striking out Andre Stelly to end the inning.
“I knew what they were going to try to do,” Breaux said. “They were going to small-ball us. I told the guys, ‘Just play good defense and make the fundamental plays, and I will get us out of it.’ I needed to throw strikes in that moment. I got us in that bind, and I needed to get us out.”
But STM’s offense was struggling as well through the first five innings; Teurlings Catholic sophomore Cantrell had given up three hits (all singles), as the lone run scored at that point was Lochridge scoring off a groundout that hit Cantrell’s leg in the fourth.
“He was awesome,” Thibodeaux said. “He took the ball and took the mound and he wanted to win that ballgame. I am so proud of him. He is going to grow from this situation.”
Breaux getting himself out of that jam in the top of the sixth seemed to spark the Cougars offense.
In the bottom of the sixth, Lochridge led off with a standup triple and scored moments later on a single by Mason Templet. After a double by Christian Leonard and a strikeout by Alex Hannie, Mason Tucker drove home two more runs with a double and scored three batters later on a single by Romero.
“Brennan did a great job on the mound,” Lochridge said. “After that last inning, when he struck out the last guy with the bases juiced, it gave us some momentum. It really carried over, and we were able to keep it going.”
“Those guys in the middle of my lineup have been clutch for us the entire season,” Perkins said. “You don’t get to be 30-9 unless you got somebody that is clutch for you. I think today you saw what some of those guys are capable of doing.”
Teurlings tried to put together a rally in the top of the seventh when Jacob Richard scored on a fielder’s choice by Nathan Arceneaux, but that would be all the Rebels could muster. Three batters later, Webre struck out, and STM began to dogpile in celebration.
“You know we prayed, we all worked hard and we all expected to win a state championship,” said Thibodeaux, who guided the Rebels to state titles in 2010 and ’12. “It just wasn’t in the cards for us today, but it doesn’t mean that prayer goes unanswered. There is more in store for all of these kids.”
After the trophy presentations, Perkins remained on the field, watching as his team celebrated with friends and family beneath and behind the stands at Field 41. The veteran coach, who once guided Teurlings to a state title in 1990, gave all the credit of repeating as state champions to his players.
“I have been doing this for 40 years,” he said. “When I stand back and see those kids, it reminds me of when I was coaching 20 years ago, but it is all about them.
“These kids have bought into the system. They understand about passion, and they all love the game. That makes my job a whole lot easier.”