Advocate staff photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- St. Michael baseball coach Johnny Bernhard: 'There are so many similarities between that (2011 team) and this one We’ve got great senior leadership, and these guys are a very extroverted group that is fun to be around and they’re solid all around.'

St. Michael the Archangel baseball coach Johnny Bernhard can’t help being a little nostalgic.

The fifth-seeded Warriors (24-9) remind Bernhard of his 2011 squad that finished as the Class 4A runner-up. Are they good enough to give SMHS a shot at another title game?

All Bernhard wants is a chance for the Warriors to prove they are. And SMHS has it. St. Michael plays top-seeded St. Thomas More (29-5) in a 4A semifinal that helps open the Louisiana High School Athletic Association State Baseball tournament. Game time is 7 p.m. Thursday at McMurry Park in Sulphur.

“There are so many similarities between that (2011 team) and this one,” Bernhard said. “We’ve got great senior leadership, and these guys are a very extroverted group that is fun to be around and they’re solid all around.

“My challenge to them was to find ways to get better. Nothing was off limits. We looked to get better in every phase of the game. Was it perfect? There were some times early in the year when we weren’t as consistent as I’d like. But I feel like we’re right where we need to be.”

St. Thomas More also finds itself in a familiar place, facing a team from District 6-4A in Sulphur for the second straight year. In 2013, a Lutcher squad led by current LSU pitcher Jared Poche, beat STM 4-0 in the 4A title game also played at McMurry.

The Cougars are led by catcher Chase Vallot, who is hitting .548 with 12 home runs and 55 RBIs. O’Neal Lochridge (.402, 48 RBIs) and Mason Templet (.444, 36 RBIs) are other top hitters for the Lafayette-based team.

“Vallot is one of those big thumpers who can really hit the ball,” St. Michael coach Johnny Bernhard said. “They’ve got several other guys in the lineup like that. They hit the ball well, and we hit it well. That’s one of things that makes this matchup interesting.”

The Warriors have their own dynamic duo in senior first baseman Austin Edens, a Samford signee who is hitting .467 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs. J.T. Mauldin is at .391 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs. Third baseman Christopher Reid, an LSU commitment, is at .462 with 44 runs scored.

Edens and Mauldin were starters for the 2011 St. Michael team that finished as the runner-up to St. Louis in a 9-8 title game played in Ruston in 2011.

Hogan Harris (2-0) is expected to start for St. Thomas More. One of three pitchers, Dylan McElroy (6-2), Jonathan Lofton (5-1) and Laine Fontenot (4-2), will get the start for a St. Michael squad that played in a tournament in Sulphur this season in order to get an idea of what the tourney atmosphere would be like along with McMurry’s artificial turf infields.

The two teams have played some of the same opponents. For example, both lost to 5A semifinalists Jesuit and Barbe by similar scores.

Much like St. Michael, St. Thomas More has focused on its own its pursuits. When asked about St. Michael, STM coach Brad Topham said, “St. Michael hits the ball extremely well. It’s going to take our best effort to beat them.”

Bernhard said a regular-season ending stretch that included come-from-behind wins over Lutcher and 3A power Parkview Baptist was crucial.

“More than anything else, those games showed our guys that they can come back against a quality team in any situation,” Bernhard said. “They confidence carried over to the playoffs. We’re playing a great team and a night game, so the crowd should be good. You can’t ask for much more.”