Jesse Cassard knows something about expectations. In his first three years as Zachary’s baseball coach, he guided the Broncos to Class 4A state titles in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Since then, his teams pretty much have been expected to compete for the state title.

Last year, the veteran-laden Broncos were seeded third in the state tournament, but were stunned by Archbishop Shaw 7-1 in the first round of the playoffs, putting an end to a 26-8 season. Seven players from that team signed to play college baseball.

In 2016, the expectations are there again for Cassard’s team to be contenders for the state title. He wouldn’t want it any other way despite the fact his team is younger than a year ago.

“We have a fairly young team, but we have some pitchers with experience,” Cassard said. “Our kids know how to play the game, so it’s not like they weren’t around it last year. We’ve had a great preseason practice period. I’ve seen nothing but great things from our kids.”

Cassard said the Broncos still have a lot of work to do before they open the season against Sam Houston at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m.

That game will be followed by the Medical Pharmacy Tournament at Zachary Youth Park Feb. 25-27 and the season will kick into high gear. For the first four weeks of the season, the Broncos will play 19 games.

While Zachary lost plenty of experience to graduation, two ace junior right-handed pitchers return to anchor the Broncos on the mound. Robert Burke was 9-1 a year ago with an ERA less than 2. He’ll be joined in the starting rotation by Anthony Fidanza, who pitched sporadically last year but is ready to go.

“They’re both Division I (college) players,” Cassard said. “They’re right-handed and they’re both polished kids for their age. They’re mirror images of each other more than any 1-2 combination we’ve had here.”

Cassard said several others are in the mix to earn time on the mound, and without a senior in the pitching lineup, the staff will get plenty of opportunity to gain experience.

As for the rest of the lineup, he said, “We’re going to win by doing a lot of the little things right. These kids are locked in and have a good understanding of how to win. It’s a little different than last year. I’m excited about it.”

The Broncos will get tested early, traveling to play games at some imposing venues like Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana’s stadiums. Cassard said he wants to expose his team to intimidating places to play.

Three veteran players will anchor the Broncos at the plate. Senior P.J. Cannon, who hit over .400 a year ago and earned all-state first-team honors, is back in the leadoff spot. Cassard said Cannon is electric on the base paths and is fun to watch. Sophomore River Town will be counted on to drive in a lot of runs, and Hunter David, who hit .467 last year as a junior, will be in the cleanup spot.

“As long as we have strong leadership to go with the mixture of young guys, we’ll be fine,” Cassard said. “We’ve got a number of players who are older and will be great when they’re seniors, and they’re really good juniors and sophomores. This is a highly committed group of players. We’re ready.”

As for District 4-5A competition, Cassard expects Denham Springs again to be a strong rival. Statewide, he said Barbe, which has won the title three of the past five years, is expected to be strong, along with Lafayette High and Brother Martin.

“You can throw us in there — we’re probably among the top four schools,” Cassard said. “We’ll play all those teams early in the season and get a feel for where everybody is. Our guys understand what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The expectations are certainly there.

Zachary wrestlers tie for 19th

Led by seniors Kennan Tate and Peyton Wicker, the Zachary wrestling team finished tied for 19th place in the team standings at the LHSAA State Championships held Feb. 12-13 at the CenturyLink Center in Bossier City. The Broncos were tied with C.E. Byrd at 38 points in Division I.

Wicker advanced to the semifinals in the 182-pound class, where he lost to eventual finalist Brandon Greer, of Jesuit, by an 11-5 decision. Tate advanced to the semifinals in the 195-pound class, winning two matches before withdrawing due to injury against eventual champion Guy Patron Jr., of Jesuit.

Advancing to the second round were Ty Depew at 285 pounds, James Noland at 152 pounds, Brandon Cosse at 138 pounds and Joseph Elbert at 32 pounds.

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