The St. Michael baseball team found itself in a position it didn’t want Friday. Not only had the Warriors lost 8-1 in Game 1 of their Class 4A best-of-three quarterfinal series at Franklinton, they were out of sorts.
The play of third-seeded Franklinton, along with the home crowd atmosphere, had sixth-seeded St. Michael off its game.
Needing to regroup, St. Michael (23-10) turned to senior right-hander Jonathan Lofton, and he responded with the type of performance that has earned him a reputation as a fierce competitor. Lofton went the distance in Game 2 on Saturday, allowing eight hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
Most important, St. Michael got the win, a 4-2 decision to even the series. The Warriors followed with a 2-1 win in Game 3 behind sophomore Evan Becnel’s pitching. The doubleheader sweep propelled St. Michael into the semifinals for the second straight year.
“(Lofton) really stepped up, and that’s what you expect from a senior,” St. Michael coach Johnny Bernhard said after practice Tuesday. “Everybody was looking to him, and he was glad to have the ball. He carried the team.”
Lofton began developing into a big-game pitcher last season, so it was no surprise that Bernhard was counting on Lofton with the Warriors facing elimination.
“We obviously didn’t have the greatest Friday night,” Lofton said. “Coach told me afterward it was up to me. I had to go out there and get a win. We had Becnel ready for Game 3, so we knew we were good there.
“We just had to go out and get the ‘W,’ and that’s what we did.”
St. Michael’s reward for their efforts at Franklinton is a trip to the LSHAA’s Allstate Sugar Bowl state championship tournament at Sulphur’s McMurry Park. Waiting for the Warriors is a familiar foe, defending champion St. Thomas More (28-9).
The second-seeded Cougars have won 21 of their past 22 games and defeated St. Michael 4-1 in the 2014 semifinals. The teams play at 7 p.m. Thursday in one semifinal while No. 1 Tioga and No. 5 Teurlings Catholic play at 4 p.m. in the other.
“It’s a rematch of last year’s semifinal game — same day, same time, same place and possibly even a rematch of the same starting pitchers,” said Bernhard, who plans to start Lofton. “I know our kids are looking forward to it. I know St. Thomas More has an outstanding ballclub just like they did last year.”
Lofton started and went four innings in the 2014 semifinal matchup. Bernhard said Lofton’s efforts that night kept the Warriors in the ballgame and gave them a chance to win.
“Last year, the loss left kind of a sour taste in my mouth,” Lofton said. “I think a lot of other guys would say the same thing. It’s something we’ve had in the back of our minds. We’re ready to prove we can stand up with anybody.”
A semifinal win would bring a chance to win the championship, but Lofton isn’t quite ready to talk about the Warriors’ title hopes becoming a reality.
“Being in the state championship is what everyone wants. It’s everyone’s goal at the start of the season,” he said. “We’re just happy with where we are, and to have a shot at being where we want to be.”