St. Michael, St. Thomas More to meet again in baseball _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- St. Michael coach Johnny Bernhard

There is a common thread to the last two baseball seasons for St. Michael the Archangel.

Eventual Class 4A state champion St. Thomas More of Lafayette beat the Warriors in the semifinals each year. As SMHS looked to etch its name among the 4A elite, there’s yet one more showdown.

St. Michael (7-3) hosts STM (5-5) at 4 p.m. Tuesday for a nondistrict game that begins a challenging week for the Warriors.

“We’ve talked about it and there’s no doubt we’ll know a lot more about ourselves by the end of this week,” St. Michael coach Johnny Bernhard said. “We’re going to play a bunch of good teams between now and Sunday and St. Thomas More happens to be the first one.

“They’re the team that ended our season the last two years. The pitcher we faced both times has moved on to UL-Lafayette and we’re happy about that. Like us, they’ve got new guys in the lineup and some who are playing different places. But we know they’re solid.”

Bernhard takes things an extra step, noting that the Cougars’ record is misleading because they played the likes of Sam Houston, Barbe, Hahnville and Jesuit during a tournament last week that was compressed by weather issues.

Two things are certain. One is that the Warriors won’t have to face pitcher Hogan Harris, who has moved on to ULL. Another STM star, infielder O’Neal Lochridge is starting for LSU. St. Michael’s top hitter from a year ago, infielder Chris Reid, also is at LSU.

The second is that the Warriors have figured out how to reinvent themselves for the second straight year. St. Michael has won seven straight.

“In the past we’ve relied a lot on a few players to carry us,” Bernhard said. “Two years ago it was Austin Edens and J.T. Mauldin and last year we had Chris Reid. This year we have several guys who have stepped up to make big plays and get big hits for us.”

The Warriors play the other 4A Lafayette power, Teurlings Catholic, on Thursday. SMHS also is scheduled to play 5A East Ascension, 4A Benton and 2A Notre Dame as part of the South Louisiana Shootout this weekend.

“This week is something we’ve prepared for,” St. Michael first baseman Michael Smith said. “I think it will show our strengths and our weaknesses. I like the way we play together as a team. I could see the chemistry come together over the summer, and it’s gotten better since then.”

Smith was a solid performer in his first varsity season a year ago. The senior now leads the Warriors with a .471 average and 12 RBIs. Infielder Dwain Varisco is hitting .394 and has a team-high 13 runs scored. Evan Becnel (2-0) has emerged as the top pitcher.

“One thing I like about this team is the way we handle adversity,” Smith said. “In a game with Riverside, we were down 5-1 and scored eight runs in the last inning to win.

“Last year, we usually started fast on offense and didn’t score as many runs late in games. We’ve hit the ball more consistently throughout games this year.”

When asked about the rematch with St. Thomas More, Smith replied, “We’re ready for this.”