As pitcher, quarterback St. John’s Hunter Schnebelen used to spotlight _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- St. John's Hunter Schnebelen pitches against Ascension Catholic on Monday at St. John High School in Plaquemine.

Because he’s played quarterback and pitcher, you could argue Hunter Schnebelen is a face that represents the St. John athletic program.

The senior left-hander is definitely in his element when he faces opposing batters in clutch situations.

“He’s been a workhorse for us the last two years,” St. John coach Heath Whittington said. “Hunter’s won 10 games in back-to-back years, and that’s not easy to do. He understands what it takes to be successful on the high school level. He understands pitch selection, and why we throw certain pitches in certain situations.”

The Eagles (25-5) advanced to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s State Baseball tournament with a 6-1 quarterfinal win over District 8-1A rival Ascension Catholic on Monday. St. John, the No. 4 seed, faces No. 9 Sacred Heart-Ville Platte (22-8) at 2 p.m. Friday at Sulphur’s McMurry Park.

Schnebelen (10-1) scattered six hits and allowed one walk with two strikeouts as the Eagles punched their ticket to the LHSAA tourney for the second straight year. The story for Schnebelen and the Eagles this time around is what a difference a year makes.

Last spring St. John lost to eventual 1A champion Mangham in the semifinals in the school’s first tourney appearance in more than a decade. The Eagles graduated all but four starters, making a return trip to the tournament, anything but a sure thing.

“We lost our whole infield except for our third baseman, who moved to shortstop,” Schnebelen said.

“I know there were people who didn’t expect much from us. We came out early in the year and beat a couple of bigger schools, Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville.

“As the year went on, we came together as a team. I guess we proved you can do this even when you don’t have a lot of guys coming out.”

Schnebelen and another Eagles lefty, junior Brandon Noel, give St. John a distinctive duo. During the regular season Schnebelen had a 2.80 earned run average and 37 strikeouts.

“In Class 1A, you don’t see a lot of left-handers,” Ascension Catholic coach Todd Landry noted earlier in the year. “And St. John not only has two, they have two good ones. Schnebelen is one of the best 1A pitchers.”

At 6-foot, 150 pounds, Schnebelen is not a flame thrower, though he believes his fastball has picked up some velocity this season.

“I throw three pitches — a fastball, curve and change-up — that I’m comfortable with,” Schnebelen said. “I have to change speeds and locate my pitches. I rely on my defense a lot. They made plays behind me yesterday, like they do every time we play.”

Schnebelen and Noel, who was 3-for-3 with two RBIs on Monday, split time in center field. Catcher Jacob Maranto and shortstop Chris Patin are the other returning starters for the Eagles.

The state tourney in Sulphur will present a couple of new challenges. It will be the first time teams in all seven classes have played semifinal and finals at the same location over a three-day span.

Being in Sulphur will obviously be different than playing at the University of Louisiana at Monroe last season. McMurry has artificial turf on the infields. St. John plans to practice on turf fields locally at Cypress Mounds before Friday’s game.

“We tried to get a game in Lafayette (at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and it didn’t work out,” Schnebelen said. “We’ll get to practice on one, and we’ll have to adjust.”

Once this weekend is over, Schnebelen looks to make an adjustment to the college level. He is unsigned, but has been contacted by Baton Rouge Community College, LSU-Eunice and McNeese State.

If Schnebelen is nervous about performing for college scouts, he doesn’t show it.

“You’ve got to take it one pitch at a time,” Schnebelen said.

Follow Robin Fambrough on Twitter @FambroughAdv