Bouncing back: After a rough start, Makhail Hilliard helps Central to 3-2 win over Dutchtown _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Dutchtown baseball coach Chris Schexnaydre tries to fire up his team against Central on March 29.

District 5-5A co-leaders Dutchtown and Catholic High meet in two showdown games this week that could determine the eventual champion.

Dutchtown (18-9, 5-1) travels to Catholic (22-5, 5-1) at 6 p.m. Thursday, while CHS is at Dutchtown at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Catholic is the defending district champion and was the Class 5A runner-up in 2015. The Bears had a 16-game winning streak snapped by St. Amant last Saturday. CHS rallied for a 4-3 victory over St. Amant Tuesday, while East Ascension edged Dutchtown 2-1.

Dutchtown coach Chris Schexnaydre and Catholic coach Brad Bass said they expect two competitive games.

“I expect both teams to come out and play with a lot of energy,” Schexnaydre said. “Catholic is a quality program, and hopefully we can match their intensity. It could come down to which team gets the timely hit.”

“We’re excited to play Dutchtown,” Bass said. “St. Amant did a good job of silencing our bats. I’m sure we’ll get much of the same from Dutchtown.”

Catholic has a healthy team batting average of .349. Senior shortstop Josh Smith (.400, five homers), junior centerfielder Patrick Crifasi (.400), senior right fielder Daniel Guilbeau and junior third baseman Cole Johnson (.375) are leading CHS hitters.

“This is one of the better offensive clubs we’ve had in my five seasons,” said Bass, who guided CHS to the 2013 Class 5A title. “We had a good batting practice Wednesday.”

Catholic will send senior left-hander Brady Sartain (3-1) to the mound Thursday. Dutchtown will counter with junior right-hander Cade Blanchard (4-2). CHS senior right-hander Brian Fairbanks (5-2) will take the mound Saturday, while Dutchtown will go with Britton Benoit (2-2).

Leading hitters for the Griffins include Payton Stafford (.364, 18 RBIs), Caleb Ricca (.357, 11 RBIs) and Cullen Ballard (.351).

“We’ve been getting really solid pitching and playing really good defense,” Schexnaydre said. “We’re strong up the middle with senior shortstop Caleb Ricca, second baseman Cameron Sibley and center fielder Cullen Ballard. They’re constantly working hard to make each other better.

“Just like any other team our hitting has been inconsistent at times. We’re excited to be tied for the district lead this late in the season. We have the opportunity in front of us and need to take it.”

Bass said Johnson sets the tone as the leadoff hitter.

“We have good balance in our lineup,” he said. “I like how my team showed toughness and competed in two tough games with St. Amant. This is the time of year we really enjoy. We’re working to get a top four seed.”

More 3A matchups

The competitive battle for the District 6-3A baseball title also moves to its next phase that involves four teams ranked in LHSAA’s power rankings. Top-ranked Brusly (28-2) travels to No. 4 West Feliciana (19-5, 5-1) for a 6:30 p.m. game at the West Feliciana Sportsplex.

Also, No. 7 Parkview Baptist (12-11, 5-1) travels to No. 9 University (17-10, 4-2) for a 4 p.m. game.

Softball pairings released

The LHSAA is scheduled to release its softball playoff pairings in all seven classes Thursday. The process will begin with final approval of the power rankings in each class.

Playoffs can begin as soon as Friday as teams begin their quest to advance to the LHSAA’s state softball tournament set for April 29-30 in Sulphur.