To be the best, Riverside Academy must beat the best when the fourth-seeded Rebels take on No. 1 Opelousas Catholic on Thursday in the opening game of the Division III state semifinals of the Allstate Sugar Bowl LHSAA state baseball tournament at McMurry Park in Sulphur.
Riverside coach Frank Cazeaux would have it no other way.
“I just believe this about this team: We compete against ourselves,’’ Cazeaux said. “We’ll do stupid things at times. But, if we play and we stay focused, we’ve proven that we can beat anybody. We’re that kind of team. When we play to our capabilities, we’re good. Hopefully, we can be good for two more games.’’
First pitch for Riverside (28-11) and Opelousas Catholic (28-8) is scheduled for 10 a.m. at Field 40, with the winner of this single-elimination event advancing to face the winner of Thursday’s 1 p.m. semifinal between No. 6 St. Charles Catholic and No. 2 Ouachita Christian.
The Division III championship game is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday on Field 37.
Riverside is making a second consecutive semifinals appearance and is searching for its first state title since 2006 and third in the LHSAA. The Rebels were eliminated last season by St. Charles 3-0.
“I think we’re up to the task,’’ said Cazeaux, who directed Rummel to a state championship in 1997. “The kids were there last year, and I think they’re ready for the challenge.’’
Junior right-hander Jordan Loving (5-0) owns a 1.93 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 76 innings. Loving scheduled to start against the District 5-2A champions, who are seeking their first title in baseball, according to coach Justin Boyd.
The Vikings, who are batting .338 as a team, will counter with senior right-hander Matt Collins (7-1, 1.29 ERA).
“We’re going to play a very good team in Opelousas Catholic, who can really swing the bats,’’ Cazeaux said. “The old saying goes that, ‘Good pitching beats good hitting any day of the week.’ So I’ll take my chances with Loving.’’
The Rebels have supplied Loving with ample support from a lineup that averages .302 as a team and features right fielder Zack Geiger batting leadoff followed by pitcher/infielder Mason Vicknair, Loving, catcher Heath Mohon, third baseman Jared Hymel, shortstop Conner Poche’, first baseman Tanner Louque, center fielder Dane Edler and left fielder Payton Bailey.
Geiger is batting .410 with two homers, 21 RBIs and 40 runs scored. Vicknair, who plays second base or shortstop when not serving as Riverside’s No. 2 pitcher, is batting .420 with 10 homers and 39 RBIs. Loving is hitting .300 with two homers and 26 RBIs, Mohon is batting .318 with 26 RBIs, Hymel .295 with six homers and 31 RBIs and Louque .319 with one homer and 23 RBIs.
Riverside swept No. 13 Hannan 14-0 and 15-2 before falling to No. 12 Catholic of New Iberia 6-5 in the quarterfinals opener and then rebounding with 9-3 and 11-2 victories.
“The kids had their backs to the wall, and they performed very well against a good, quality team,’’ Cazeaux said of Catholic of New Iberia.
Opelousas Catholic enters having won 18 of its past 20. The Vikings ended the regular season on a nine-game winning streak before opening the playoffs by sweeping No. 16 Thomas Jefferson 13-1 and 11-1 and then downing No. 9 Episcopal of Baton Rouge 2-1, 6-10, 4-2.
“Episcopal gave us everything they could and we found a way to win,’’ Vikings coach Justin Boyd said. “I think now it’s all about finding a way to way. Whether it’s ugly or pretty, it doesn’t matter anymore.’’
First baseman Spencer Gardner leads the Vikings offensively with seven homers, 44 RBI and a .351 batting average. Catcher Sam Jarrell is hitting .393 with 27 RBsI. Collins is batting .327 with three homers and 27 RBIs. Left fielder Gaige St. Cyr is hitting .378 with two homers and 26 RBI.
Opelousas Catholic’s approach remains the same as it has all season.
“If you’re on the mound or you’re at the plate or on defense, we just try to be a competitor at whatever it is,’’ Boyd said. “If you’re in the box, we try to make everybody believe that everyone is with them. You just have to do what you do and what you can do. You don’t have to do more than you’re capable of doing.
“Our kids have really done a good job of competing. We’ve played a really tough schedule this year to challenge the kids, and they responded in every game this year.’’
“The thing now is you have to win, so you have to go out and perform,’’ Cazeaux said. “You take one pitch off and it could cost you the opportunity to play for the state championship.’’