NEW ORLEANS — For a closer, Zachary pitcher Travis Cliburn had a pretty good start.
In his first appearance as a starter this season, the senior right-hander flirted with a no-hitter and kept St. Amant’s hitters off balance to help his team take a 7-2 victory in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A baseball tournament at Tulane’s Turchin Stadium.
The Broncos (25-11) advance to the semifinals played later Saturday. West Monroe play Catholic in the other semifinal. The winners will advance to the championship game to be played at 2 p.m. Sunday — weather permitting.
Cliburn (6-0, with nine saves) managed to keep St. Amant’s hitters off balance most of the day with a sidearm, submarine delivery he said he started perfecting as a sophomore. It certainly worked Saturday. Cliburn had a no-hitter through five innings and a perfect game through four. He walked one batter and gave up a fielder’s choice in the fifth. In the sixth, he walked leadoff batter Ryan Cardinale then gave up a run-scoring triple to Madison Nickens. He finished with a four-hitter and struck out five.
“I shook it off,” Cliburn said. “It definitely crossed my mind, when I looked up there and see all those zeros.”
It also helped the Broncos got him an early lead. Zachary scored one run in the first inning and two in the second off St. Amant starter Connor Millet. Stephen Babin led off the first with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Cade Milazzo, went to third on a single by Andrew Weber and scored on a single by Kyle Vince. After Evan Pace led off the second with a walk, Micah McHugh doubled into right field. Daniel Hodges drove them in with a single to left field.
“It’s easier to pitch with a lead,” Cliburn said. “You never want to pitch from behind.”
Cliburn never had to. The Broncos added four runs in the fifth on three hits, a hit batsmen and two St. Amant errors. Babin drove in two runs with a single.
St. Amant (26-10) finally got to Cliburn in the sixth when Cardinale led off with a walk and Nickens tripled. He scored on a single by pinch hitter Reece LeBlanc.
“He just left one up,” Nickens said.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” St. Amant coach Troy Templet said. “I’m very proud of my guys. We fought all year. We’re playing our best ball all year. Cliburn just did an excellent job. He kept the ball down, kept the ball moving. It was hard to pick up. We got to him a little bit there at the end. I have to give the credit to him and their defense. They made every play they had to.”
Waiting a day to play might be easier than waiting an afternoon, however.
“This is crazy,” Zachary coach Jesse Cassard said. “Now, we’ve got seven hours to kill. I don’t know what we’re going to do.
“Now, we’ve got to bring them down, then get them back up. I guess we’ll go back to the hotel and try to take a nap.”