Edna Karr’s baseball practice field doubles as the school’s football practice field.
Two goal posts. No infield diamond. No pitcher’s mound.
On other days, Donnie Russell and his players will load up on a bus and make a 20-minute trip to Harahan to practice at an indoor baseball facility.
They pay $5 per player to use the place, but it’s all paying off.
“All of that is tough, but we have to do what we have to do to be a state championship team,” sophomore pitcher Tyree Thompson said.
Yes, despite the odds and a lack of tradition, they are talking baseball state titles at Karr.
The Cougars finished the regular season with a 21-1 record. That’s a 95.5 wining percentage, better than any other team in the state in any classification.
Karr will host Plaquemine on Thursday in the bidistrict round of the Class 4A playoffs. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium.
“We aren’t fortunate to have the luxuries that some teams have, but on game day we are fortunate just to be on somebody’s field playing,” Russell said.
Russell, in his fourth season at the helm, guided the school to the District 10-4A title this season. It’s the first district title in the history of the school known more for its prowess in football and basketball.
“Believe it or not, at Karr, you’re expected to win,” Russell said. “Even the baseball team. That’s just the nature of the school. The school is so competitive, academically as well as in athletics. The baseball team wants to do well because they don’t want to be the one team that isn’t good.”
The Cougars have done it with a solid pitching staff, sound defense and a team that is stealing bases at a mind-boggling rate. They have stolen close to 200 bases this season, Russell said. Juwan Offray, who has signed to play football at Oklahoma State, leads the team in steals.
“The key is we are very aggressive on the bases and we are hitting the ball well,” Russell said.
Right fielder D’Monte Carter (batting .511), third baseman Tyler Reid (.440), catcher D’Andre Williams (.369) and center fielder Jarid Montgomery (.365) are all batting above .350. Corey Levy is at .341.
Third baseman Tyler Reid has seven homers.
The pitching staff of Thompson (10-0), Levy (8-0) and Myran Pelrean (2-0) has been rock solid as well.
Thompson is the ace of the staff and has 104 strikeouts so far, his second season eclipsing the century mark. His fastball is consistently in the upper 80s.
Now the scary part.
The three pitchers are all just sophomores, putting this team ahead of schedule.
“I would say we are a year ahead of where I thought we would be,” Russell said. “I thought next year we would be able to make a pretty decent run, We are throwing all sophomores, so next year they will really understand what’s going on and should be really good.”
But just how good is Karr?
That’s a question that some are still asking.
Despite their 21-1 record, they enter the playoffs as a No. 10 seed based on the LHSAA’s power rankings that are based partially on schedule strength.
Russell has heard the critics.
“Yeah, that’s what everybody says,” Russell said. “But you look at last year and we played a brutal schedule against all the big dogs. We went to Barbe, went to Dutchtown, and Baton Rouge Catholic. We finished 15-13 and that was with a team of freshmen. That made us grow up real quick.”
The Cougars were ranked among the top four teams in 4A for most of the season before getting into district play in a league that also included Belle Chasse, Lake Area, McDonogh 35 and Landry-Walker.
Karr swept Belle Chasse, a No. 14 seed that has victories over Rummel, Holy Cross, and John Curtis.
The Cougars also have wins over district champions Haynes Academy and Thomas Jefferson.
Thompson had a season-best 17 strikeouts in the win over Haynes, the No. 6 seed in 2A.
“We still get overlooked a little, but we want to prove them wrong in the playoffs,” Thompson said.
“People say our schedule isn’t good, but we can’t make teams play us that don’t want to play us.”
Karr’s lone loss this season came against East Jefferson in a game the Cougars stranded 12 runners.
“We had the bases loaded twice,” Russell said. “We couldn’t get a bunt down and threw the ball away some in. But that game motivated us and showed us we had to do the little things.”
Karr could possibly get a rematch against East Jefferson in the second round. East Jefferson would have to upset Franklinton on Friday. And of course, Karr has to beat Plaquemine.
“The hype of the game shouldn’t get to us,” Russell said. “We have been doing it all year.”
Follow Rod Walker on Twitter @rwalkeradvocate.