The Jesuit High-based Retif Oil baseball team captured the Louisiana American Legion state championship two weeks ago.
Retif Oil players will quickly tell you that the Legion title somewhat removed the sour taste of Jesuit losing in the semifinals of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association baseball playoffs in June.
“This makes up for it just a little bit,” said Retif Oil pitcher Glynn Hyer. “But we are definitely not satisfied with just winning the state tournament. We want to move on and get a shot at going to Shelby.”
Shelby, North Carolina, is the site of the American Legion World Series that begins August.
But to get there, Retif Oil must first win the Mid-South Regional Tournament that begins Thursday and concludes Monday in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
Retif Oil opens play in the eight-team tournament at 4:30 p.m. against the Arkansas state champion.
“It’s not so much about who you are playing anymore, but it’s about what you are playing for,” said Retif Oil coach Joey Latino. “And we’re playing for a berth in the World Series. If that doesn’t get you excited, shame on you. I think they know what’s ahead of them. They know the competition is going to be real tough.”
Latino is hoping to duplicate the success he had two seasons ago when his team won the regional and then went on to win the World Series.
But this year’s team is much different than that veteran team from 2012. That team featured four returning college players and eight players who had just graduated from Jesuit.
This team has no college players and only two players who just graduated.
But that youth hasn’t stopped Retif Oil so far.
“The word I would use to describe this team right now is determined,” said Latino. “They have come a long way. There has been some adversity and some learning, but they are very determined. And they are confident.
“They have seen what they can do when we go out and execute and play well and play good fundamental baseball. We are just hoping that continues this weekend.”
Pitcher Christian Latino, the coach’s son, is one of just two recent graduates playing this summer; Hyer is the other.
“I played because I wanted a chance to win something for my school before I left,” said Latino, who will play at Delgado Community College. “Winning (Legion) state was very special because it’s the only championship I won a Jesuit. It came my last year, so it’s bitter sweet. Now you wish you could go out and win one more.”
Joey Latino said the season-ending loss during the high school season has helped propel this team this summer.
“It helped a lot,” Latino said. “I always ask my team at the beginning of the year, ‘What comes first: success or confidence? Neither. Preparation comes first. If you prepare and you go out and work hard every day, you are going to be confident and that’s normally when you are going to win the majority of your games. They have worked hard all summer. It’s been a long, hot summer of preparation and they have answered every call and that’s all you can ask.”
Latino’s team will have to fight through a tournament field that includes champions from Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, and the tournament host, also from Arkansas.
“Like I tell them, you’re a state champion, but so is everybody else who is going to be in this tournament,” Latino said. “All the teams are going to be talented and well coached.
“We are going to have to play our very best baseball to win it.”
Jack Burk is Retif’s scheduled starting pitcher in the tournament opener.
He will be joined in the infield by first baseman Daniel Edmund, second baseman Brandon Briuglio, shortstop Alex Galy, third baseman Nick Ray and catcher Trent Forshag.
Matthew Cedro, Jake Licciardi and Harrison Daste will play in the outfield and Scott Crabtree will be the designated hitter.
Mason Mayfield and Sean Bretz are the other starting pitchers, while Hyer, Latino, Briuglio and Logan Hornung could see duties as relievers. Myles Blunt and Josh Schmidt are out with injuries. Ben Hess has bene injured as well, but will see duties in the outfield for a team that isn’t just playing for the name on the front of their jerseys.
“We are playing for everything,” Latino said. “We are playing for Jesuit. We are playing for first district American Legion and we are playing for the state of Louisiana.
“It’s a lot to shoulder but that’s what we want them thinking about.”