Before Catholic High could reach its dugout for the first time and subsequently return to the field, it was down a run and a player.
Such was life for the reigning Class 5A state champions, who overcame an early deficit and sudden loss of a top player to s on track for another title chase.
Ninth-seeded Catholic erased an early one-run deficit with a six-run third inning and rode the pitching tandem of Ross Massey and Conner Whalen in an 8-4 bidistrict victory Tuesday over No. 24 Covington.
“It’s a funny game, and in the playoffs anything can happen,” Catholic coach Brad Bass said. “That’s a good baseball team. Any time you win in the playoffs, you have to be proud of it. I’m real proud of our guys for the way they responded to the early adversity.”
Catholic (24-10) extended its win streak to eight games and moved into the best-of-three regional series Friday at No. 8 Ruston, a 10-0 winner over Walker.
There were plenty of fireworks during an emotionally charged first inning where Covington (20-11) grabbed a 1-0 lead on Ty Loyd’s RBI double to left-center field.
Catholic tried to tie the game in the bottom half with shortstop Josh Smith leading off with a single and stealing second base. Hunter D’Armond delivered a one-out single, and Smith attempted to score on Austin Devillier’s fielder’s choice.
Covington third baseman Tyler Thompson elected to go home and his throw to catcher Kale Killingsworth was high and off the plate. Smith, who was halfway toward home, attempted to score when the ball was dropped, but Killingsworth picked it up and applied the tag for the second out.
Smith, who didn’t slide on the play, came into contact with Killingsworth and was immediately ejected by the home plate umpire for what was termed a use of profanity toward the catcher.
Bass was forced to shift D’Armond from second to shortstop, Bo Branch from right to second and insert Ross Pitre into right field.
“That’s a big blow to lose your shortstop and leadoff hitter. Hunter and Bo stepped right up and did an outstanding job,” Bass said. “I’m real proud of this family.”
Branch, the team’s ninth-place hitter, was the catalyst in Catholic’s back-breaking third inning after Massie had escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top half with Pitre and Hayden Mixon each snaring hard hit liners.
“We had a couple of opportunities to make a few plays and we didn’t,” Covington coach Jeff Dragg said.
“You’ve really got to tip your cap to them. They swung it really good in that one inning. “They’re the defending state champions for a reason.”
Branch’s double to the base of the wall in left led a parade of hitters to the plate in which Catholic batted around and has six hits against losing pitcher Zach Dale (4-4).
The Bears took the lead for good at 2-1 on Devillier’s single and error before Simon Prevot’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly and Mixon’s two-run triple to right made it 5-1.
Branch led Catholic’s 12-hit output with a 3-for-3 outing and three of the team’s eight stolen bases. Devillier added three hits — including a two-out, solo homer in the fourth.
Massey (7-2) threw 55 of 98 pitches for strikes in his five innings of work – yielding six hits, three runs, four walks and striking out five.
Whalen allowed a run on a hit in his two innings of relief, striking out a pair of batters.
“A lot of us were there last year when we won it,” Branch said. “We know what it takes. We worked so hard in the offseason and it’s paying off and it’s time to show we can do it.”