SULPHUR — Evan Hileman wasn’t happy with his curveball at the beginning of Friday’s Class 3A semifinal at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association State Baseball tournament.
“My curveball was a little off in the beginning, but I got the hang of it and started throwing it for strikes,” Hileman said. “Once we got on top, I tried to get the first strike in there and stay ahead of the batters.”
It was the perfect formula for Hileman, who tossed a three-hitter and struck out 11 to lead top-seeded Curtis to a 4-2 victory over No. 4 University High at McMurry Park. The Patriots took control by scoring four runs in the second.
“It’s a labor of love for these guys,” Curtis coach Johnny Curtis said. “The last two seasons haven’t ended the way we thought they should. These guys put their nose to the grindstone.
“They committed themselves, and now they’ve given themselves a chance to play for a state title on the final day of the season. You can’t ask for much more.”
Curtis (32-6), in an LHSAA tourney for the first time since 2010, advances to play the Brusly-Evangel winner in the Saturday’s title game set for 6 p.m. U-High (24-10) was the Class 2A runner-up last season.
The Patriots’ Harry Chairs had a two-run double and Mossy Mueller added an RBI double.
“He (Hileman) was better than advertised,” U-High coach Burke Broussard said. “He beat us with his fastball, which a lot of teams haven’t been able to do. We had him on the ropes in the second and couldn’t scratch a hit.
“We had one bad inning defensively, which is uncharacteristic for us. But we stayed together and played baseball and fought to the end. I’m just so proud of these kids.”
U-High scored in the top of the first. Brandt Broussard walked and took second on a single to short right field by Seth Daugherty. One out later, the son of the UHS coach scored from second on Jake Wharton’s high hopper that was fielded by Hileman.
The Cubs loaded the bases in the top of the second. Hileman issued back-to-back walks to Jacob McCain and Faulkner Webster. He later walked Broussard, but struck out Daugherty to end the threat.
UHS starter John Lewis (9-3) retired Curtis in order in the bottom of the first but ran into trouble in the second. The Patriots parlayed three hits and two UHS errors into four runs.
Calvin Linden reached on an error and Jacob Bordelon walked to open the inning. Harry Chairs’ double to left center scored both runners, who crossed the plate less than a second apart.
Chairs took third when Myles Washington reached on an error. The Cubs turned a double play but were not out of the woods. Hunter Dale’s infield single scored Chairs. Mossy Mueller’s double off the left-field wall brought Dale in to score Curtis’ fourth run.
Hileman settled into a routine, retiring 11 of the next 12 Cubs he faced. Pinch-hitter Manny Miles tripled to left center with two outs in the sixth, giving U-High its second baserunner since the second inning. Hileman got a groundout to get out of the inning.
Lewis also settled in after the second inning. He allowed only two hits over the final four innings he pitched and tallied three strikeouts.
Hileman retired the first two batters in the top of the seventh, recording his 11th strikeout in the process. Broussard reached on an infield hit. Curtis tried to force Broussard on Daugherty’s infield chopper, but the UHS shortstop beat the throw. James Kern reached on an error that scored Broussard.
UHS had runners on second and third. Hileman ended it by getting Jake Wharton to hit a soft liner that at first appeared headed to right center. Bordelon made the catch to close out the win.