By the time Catholic High starting pitcher Ross Massey went back out for his second inning in Tuesday’s Class 5A state playoff opener against Alexandria, he was sporting a 6-0 lead and an ear-to-ear smile.
Consecutive homers from Josh Smith and Hayden Mixon signaled a big inning was in store, one in which Massey contributed an RBI single.
The one drawback to a lengthy inning surfaced in the second, when Massey faced six batters, allowing two base hits and one walk. But he responded with a strikeout and pop up to limit the Trojans to one run.
Second-seeded Catholic didn’t let up with Mixon homering again, part of the Bears’ 15-hit onslaught that resulted in a comfortable 13-3 opening-round victory that lasted only five innings.
“It was nice,” Massey said. “The offense came up big from the first until the last. Anytime you can get 15 hits on the board it takes a lot of pressure off of you as a pitcher.”
While Catholic (32-3) advanced on the power of its offensive display, getting through a best-of-three regional round that starts at home Friday should play right into what’s been one of the Bears’ pillars this season.
Led by Massey, a Tulane signee, Catholic heads into the next phase of its playoff journey with arguably one of the state’s top pitching staffs, one featuring experience, depth and a desire to compete.
“We have a bunch of different styles, but one thing we’ve focused on is to throw strikes and field your position,” Catholic coach Brad Bass said. “They’ve sold out to doing that, and all of them have seen successful this year.”
With Massey (9-0, 1.15 ERA) in a lead role, Catholic features a staff that’s combined for an impressive four no-hitters, six shutouts, six one-run games and an ERA of 2.11.
Massey recorded the first of the team’s no-hitters Feb. 24 (3-0 over Slidell), junior Brian Fairbanks followed April 7 (4-0 win over Dutchtown), senior Nick Deranger threw a perfect game April 14 (19-0 win over McKinley) and freshman Austin Andrishok and Deranger combined on a no-hitter April 19 (10-0 win over Woodlawn).
“Anytime you can no-hit a team, it’s incredible,” Bass said. “Our pitching has been awesome all year from the No. 1 guy down to the guys out of the bullpen.”
Catholic primarily relies on a starting rotation of Massey, Fairbanks (4-0, 2.48) and senior Kyle Candilora (6-1, 1.89) while Deranger (3-0, 1.19), Andrishok (5-0, 1.60) and seniors Bradley Thornton (3-1, 2.82) and Ryan McGovern (0-0, 4.54) have also started.
Senior Will Hopkins has developed into the Bears closer after learning a drop-down delivery last summer. He’s 2-0 and 3-of-3 in save opportunities.
“I thought we had an experienced staff coming back,” Massey said. “Obviously some guys have stepped up. The staff as a whole has been great all year. If we keep throwing strikes, we’re going to be hard to beat in the playoffs.”