Catholic High baseball coach Brad Bass had high praise for his shortstop, LSU signee Josh Smith, after the Bears polished off East Ascension 8-1 in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs at Grizzly Field on Tuesday.
“One guy that needs to be noted today is Josh Smith,” Bass said. “He was sick as a dog all last night, sick all day, and he still had issues with his stomach during the game tonight. But he gutted it out for seven innings, got hit by a pitch three times and found a way to score three runs.
“He’s every bit as much of a warrior as anyone I’ve ever been around or coached. He shows up every day and leads by example.”
Smith and his teammates were able to manufacture runs on a night without many offensive fireworks. They scored two runs in the first inning without a hit, capitalizing on a walk, a wild pitch and an error. They added another in the fourth on an error, a hit batsman and a sacrifice fly.
Catholic did score three of its runs with timely hitting. No. 8 batter Brennan Lambert had a two-run double in the third, and substitute Connor Bowen drove in Smith with a single in the sixth.
The Bears’ final run came on a bases-loaded walk to Tristan Welch, also in the sixth.
“Our guys know if we can create pressure by getting guys on, the big hit’s coming,” Bass said. “One thing we say is ‘The hit doesn’t care who gets it,’ and we’re balanced. It can come from anybody in the lineup.”
The third time was definitely not a charm for the 29th-seeded Spartans, who had already lost by 8-1 and 10-0 decisions to the Bears in District 5-5A play. Those losses didn’t diminish the pride EA coach Britt Waguespack expressed in his players.
“I’m proud of my kids for their effort. They gave it everything they had,” Waguespack said. “We lost seven starters from last year, and we’ve played four and five sophomores all year.
“I really like the way we fit, and I like the way they play the game. All year long we battled through it, and today I thought there were spots we could have made some plays and made it easier on ourselves, but we didn’t, and Catholic has a good team. A real good team.”
The Spartans actually made it easier on Catholic as the Bears had 16 baserunners who reached without a hit and only five hits, three singles and two doubles.
Second baseman Will Etheridge was the only Catholic player with more than one hit, collecting a double in the second inning and a single in the fifth. He reached base on a fielder’s choice and scored on Lambert’s double in the third.
Catholic starting pitcher Brian Fairbanks ran into uncharacteristic control problems in the second inning when he gave up a single to Gage Bourgeois and two walks to load the bases, but then he recorded two of his ten strikeouts to end the inning. He went on to retire the next nine consecutive batters before giving way to Brady Sartrain to start the sixth inning.
Bourgeois collected his second hit of the game in the seventh and scored on Noah Fontenot’s RBI single.
Catholic will host Hahnville for a best-of-three series in the regional round, with the first game at Grizzly Field on Friday.