Saints’ baseball team begins defense of state title

After a high school team has won a state championship, the challenge the following season is not to grow complacent.

Second-year West Feliciana High School coach Gannon Achord knows that, and since his team first reported for the 2017 season, he’s been preaching that fact.

The Saints are coming off a historic 29-7 season, which was capped with a 6-2 victory over South Beauregard in the Class 3A state championship game, earning West Feliciana High School’s first title in the sport. Achord was named state coach of the year.

Gone from that team are 10 seniors, including five starters and the top three arms on the mound.

That’s why Jeremy Talbot, the hitting coach and recruiting coordinator for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s message on Saturday was so important. Talbot was the keynote speaker at the baseball team’s annual preseason banquet.

“He talked about the importance of the culture in a baseball program,” Achord said. “He talked about the importance of process over results and AAIT — Attitude, Approach, Intensity and Toughness — and how it helps a program.”

The Saints began their quest for a second straight title Jan. 22, and Achord said the team had a great first week.

“I’ve constantly preached about how complacency is the forerunner for mediocrity,” Achord said. “As fun as last year was, it’s in the past, and now we have to uphold what that team did.”

Achord credits his assistant coaches — Stephen Sparks, in his fourth year coaching catchers and base running; Josh Laborde, in his second year coaching hitting; and Sonny Massey, in his first year coaching outfielders — for keeping the team’s focus where it needs to be.

“They (assistants) are extremely loyal, and they do everything in their power to uphold the program,” Achord said. “They are true students of the game. They are always trying to learn, they’re the type of guys you want around your program.”

The Saints return seven seniors, four who played pivotal roles a year ago. Achord will count on their experience for leadership.

“This team has a lot to prove,” Achord said. “They have a target on their backs, and they know it. But we embrace it, and we work hard every day to improve and the results will take care of themselves.”

Achord divided the teams evenly Saturday before the banquet for the annual Blue-White World Series, an intrasquad contest that gives the players some simulated game experience. He liked what he saw.

The Saints will host their first official scrimmage Saturday against Dunham. First pitch for the junior varsity squads is 1 p.m. with the varsities set to tangle about 3 p.m. The first game will be Feb. 21 against Ascension Catholic at home.

“I think this team has a chance to be very good,” Achord said. “It has a chip on its shoulder and is pretty hungry. Our top guys on the mound are seniors, and they all pitched in some big games for us last year.

“We’re not shying away from anything. Our goal is to get back to Sulphur (for the state playoff Final Four) and make things happen again.”

The team’s schedule is available on the WFHS’ home page under “Athletics” and “Baseball,” or fans can keep up with the team throughout the year on Twitter.

Send sports news, photos and stats to Howard Arceneaux at harceneaux@theadvocate.com.