This time a year ago, Joey Latino took a young, somewhat inexperienced Retif Oil team to North Little Rock, Arkansas, for the Mid-South Region American Legion Tournament.
The Jesuit-based team is back in Arkansas again.
This time though, they are in Conway, Arkansas, and the team is a year older, a year wiser, something that Latino hopes means a successful tournament run.
“This experience will be nothing new to them,” Latino said. “But you still have to go out there and work. We don’t know how strong the field is. I thought last year’s field was really strong. You just have to go out every day and be ready to play.”
Retif Oil begins in the double elimination tournament Wednesday when it plays the champion from Kansas in the second game of doubleheader. The game will be played right after the 9:30 a.m. tournament opener between the champions from Missouri and Oklahoma.
“I think we will do well,” catcher Trent Forshag said. “The experience from going up there and doing it last year will help us.”
Retif Oil was one win away from making it to the championship round last year but lost to Columbia (Tennessee) Post 19 by one run (8-7) to get eliminated.
Retif enters the tournament after winning the Louisiana state championship two weeks ago.
Retif played a pair of games (both losses) against the New Orleans Boosters, a team of local college-aged players, to avoid any rust from a layoff.
“Our schedule is about a week ahead of every other state, so it’s kind of a handicap because you are not in competition for close to two weeks,” Latino said. “But we played a couple games against the Boosters and we had some really good workouts the past few days. I thought our energy was good.”
Their opening-round opponent from Ottawa, Kansas, just completed its state tournament this past weekend.
“Whether that helps them or hurts, we’ll have to see,” Latino said.
The winner of the eight-team tournament, which also features state champions from Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, plus the tournament host, advances to the World Series in Shelby, North Carolina, beginning Aug. 13.
Retif Oil won the regional tournament in 2012 and went on to win the national title as well that year. That team, much like this one, was experienced, featuring eight players who had just graduated from Jesuit. In comparison, last year’s Retif team that won the state title had no college players and only two players who just graduated.
This team has seven recent Jesuit graduates.
“This team resembles that (2012) team a lot as far as character and work ethic,” Latino said. “It’s hard to compare teams as far as talent from one team to the next. But as far as just determination, this group is very strong in that area just like that team.”
The 2015 team has been dominant in Legion play. They went through the state tournament undefeated and hasn’t lost an actual Legion game since early June.
Five of the starters just graduated from Jesuit, including two who will play collegiately next season. That doesn’t include Alex Galy, the Tulane bound infielder who will miss the tournament because of mononucleosis.
Scott Crabtree (a UNO signee), Harrison Daste and Ben Hess will man the outfield.
Rising senior Hayden Fuentes will start at third base and will be joined in the infield by junior shortstop Nick Ray, senior second baseman Brandon Briuglio (Florida International commitment) and first baseman and graduate Dan Edmund. Forshag (LSU) will start at catcher.
Senior Mason Mayfield will be the starting pitcher in the tournament opener, Davis Martin, David Boh and Briuglio will figure into the rotation for the remainder of the tournament that concludes Sunday.