Jesuit finds winning in coach Joe Latino’s details _lowres

Advocate staff photo by RUSTY COSTANZA -- Jesuit baseball coach Joey Latino: 'It is probably the grossest understatement to say our practices are dull.'

The writing is foreign.

However, the message is always understood.

The simple sign in the Jesuit baseball locker room represents a clear, uncomplicated approach to how baseball is played at Jesuit.

The Japanese symbols represent the phrase, “Kaizen,” Jesuit coach Joe Latino said. Translated, he said, it refers to “a commitment to small improvement every day.” Latino first heard of the concept from former LSU Coach Skip Bertman.

Because his team has thrived on Latino’s dedication to detail and its daily commitment to improving on defense, pitching and situational hitting, Jesuit will play Friday night in the Class 5A semifinals against Live Oak.

The Jays (32-5) will be seeking their second state championship under Latino in the LHSAA/State Farm Baseball Championships beginning Friday at McMurry Park.

Latino, once a player and pre-med major at UNO, is also a biology teacher at Jesuit. Repetition is important in his world.

“It is probably the grossest understatement to say our practices are dull,” Latino said.

He laughed and suggested his players “probably think, ‘Here we go again’, but they are a smart group, and we’ve got the commitment.”

His team begins a pretournament prep just like it begins pregame warm-ups or a January practice, by approaching hand-tossed ground balls with care and precision.

“We almost always begin with this drill,” Latino said. “It reinforces good footwork and proper glove placement.”

Practice will also end in familiar fashion “on almost a daily basis” Latino said. “We go over situational hitting, moving runners along . . . advancing the next 90 feet .”

This is Latino’s fourth consecutive trip to the state playoffs at Jesuit. His first Jesuit team won the championship in 2011, defeating Lafayette, 5-4. “That 2011 team was probably the best hitting team I’ve ever coached,” said Latino, who also coached at Shaw. “But the last three games we won by scores of 2-1, 3-2, and 5-4. Every game came down to pitching, defense and timely hitting.”

A year ago, Jesuit lost to eventual champion Catholic High of Baton Rouge 8-3 in the second round. In 2012, the Jays lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Barbe, 4-1.

Pitcher C.J. Avrard played on both teams.

“We take nothing for granted,” Avrard said. “Coach prepares us for every possible situation.”

Avrard (9-1) and Brandon Sequeira (10-1) form a strong tandem at the top of the Jesuit pitching rotation. Jesuit’s defense (29 errors in 37 games) provides the pitchers with a sense of security.

“Our defense is solid,” Avrard said. “When I pitch, I can concentrate on throwing strike one. I can pitch to contact because of (the defense) behind me.”

Jesuit has won 20 baseball championships, a tradition not lost on the players.

“I am thankful every day for being part of such a successful program, with such a rich tradition,” Miller said.

Like Avrard, senior Miller is playing in his third state playoff.

“It really is amazing to be in that position every year,” Miller said.

“We try to play the game right. Coach emphasizes dedication to the process. We are not results oriented. If we stay true to the process, we will play at our best and the results will follow.”