The past three weeks have revealed a side University High’s more accustomed to.
After teetering halfway through district play with four straight losses, the Cubs hit their stride down the stretch for what could be another deep postseason run.
Fourth-seeded University, the Class 2A runners-up in 2013, took an emphatic step forward with a season-high 15 runs on 14 hits to back an effective start from pitcher John Lewis in a 15-2 mercy-rule victory Thursday over No. 29 Jena.
The Class 3A bidistrict playoff triumph extended the win streak of U-High (23-9) to nine games and locked down a regional date at No. 20 Jennings, a 7-1 winner over No. 13 Buckeye, sometime early next week.
“We were close in a couple of district games,” U-High coach Burke Broussard said. “They got down a little bit, but you’ve just got to keep playing. Our approach never changed.”
Jena (13-14-1) led 1-0 against Lewis in the top of the first with three hits, including Parker Fink’s chopper through the middle to score Charlie Smith, who led off with a triple.
The Giants loaded the bases against Lewis (8-2) before the right-hander struck out the next two to avoid any further damage.
Lewis, who threw 41 of 66 pitches for strikes, allowed only one more hit, walked two and struck out five before reliever Spencer Hancock pitched a scoreless fifth.
“We tell our kids when our pitchers doesn’t have his sharp stuff, you’ve got to pick him up offensively and we did that,” Broussard said.
Eight of U-High’s nine starters had at least one hit and seven players drove in runs against four pitchers.
Catcher James Kern went 3-for-3 with two RBIs, while first baseman Faulkner Webster (2-3, RBI), second baseman Jake Wharton (2-2, 2 RBIs) and third baseman Jacob McCain (2-3, 2 RBIs) led U-High’s onslaught.
Left fielder Brooks Southall had a team-high four RBIs and right fielder Jake Alexander added three.
Consecutive run-scoring hits from Wharton and Southall during a four-run first inning touched off a stretch of nine unanswered runs for a 9-1 lead after two innings.
The Cubs produced five runs on four hits in the second with Alexander, Webster and McCain all contributing run-producing hits and following that an inning later with two more runs on an error and sacrifice fly from Alexander.
Kern’s two-run double with the bases loaded and back-to-back sacrifice flies from Wharton and Southall enabled U-High to score four times in the fourth and help shorten the game.
“Our pitching’s been holding us all year long, and our defense has been pretty solid,” Broussard said. “Hitting’s been kind up and down, but I like where we are right now. I hope we can keep it going.”