Brother Martin baseball team starts quarterfinal series Friday _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Brother Martin's Chase Dolly congratulates Kyler Johnston after Johnston scored a run in a game against Rummel in March.

Brother Martin didn’t win the Catholic League baseball title this season.

But the Crusaders find themselves within reach of an even bigger title: a state championship.

Brother Martin (22-11), the lone Catholic League team still alive in the baseball playoffs, can move a step closer to a state title beginning Friday when it plays a best-of-three series against Byrd (22-15) at Kirsch–Rooney Stadium.

Game 1 of the quarterfinal series is at 6:30 p.m. Friday, with Game 2 set for at 1 p.m. Saturday, with a third game, if needed, to follow.

The winner of the series advances to Sulphur for next week’s semifinals and championships.

It’s been 19 years since Brother Martin last won a baseball state championship, a little before most of the current Crusaders were born.

Just getting past the quarterfinals has been a stumbling block for the Crusaders lately.

It’s been about 10 years since Brother Martin last played in the semifinals. This is the third straight year the Crusaders have advanced to the quarterfinals. They were a No. 2 seed a year ago when they lost to Live Oak on Mother’s Day.

Coach Mark Wisniewski has been pleased with the way his team has been playing of late.

“I like the way we are playing,” said Wisniewski, in his 19th season. “The pitchers are doing a good job. Defense has been solid. Swinging, we have to get a little better. But I have been pleased on what we have been doing.”

Brother Martin, the No. 14 seed, beat Hahnville in the first round and swept District 9-5A foe Shaw in a second-round series. Byrd, the No. 22 seed, beat No. 11 Airline in the first round.

Then Byrd got a bit of a break in the second round and played No. 27 Central of Baton Rouge, which upset No. 6 Sam Houston in the first round.

“They swing the bats well,” Wisniewski said of Byrd. “They are aggressive at the plate, and they have been putting up big numbers.”

Byrd has scored at least eight runs in all three of its playoff games, including a 13-run outing in the series-clinching win over Central.

Wisniewski said he knows first hand how explosive Byrd can be.

Brother Martin lost to Byrd 10-0 early in the regular season in a game that was played in brutally cold temperatures with temperatures in the upper 20s.

“It wasn’t a fun day,” Wisniewski said.

But the season was still young then, and the Crusaders were still trying to find their way after losing the bulk of its starters off last year’s team that won 31 games.

“At this point, we are both different teams,” Wisniewski said. “We were trying to find our identify. We were starting seven new starters. They were trying to get their team together. I just think that it’s two different teams getting ready to try to get to the semifinals.”

Brother Martin appears to be at full strength on the mound, with Southeastern Louisiana signee Corey Gaconi making his first start in a month last week in the Shaw series.

“It felt really good to say it was my first start in a while,” said Gaconi, who allowed eight hits, one walk and struck out three in seven innings.

Wisniewski’s other options include LSU commitment Blair Frederick and Tulane commitment Keagan Gillies.

The winner of the Brother Martin-Byrd series will play the winner of the Catholic-BR-Denham Springs series on May 15 in the semifinals. The championship game is set for May 16.