Baton Rouge’s Class 5A schools have rich baseball traditions that date to the 1990s, when the teams played in one of Louisiana’s top two classifications.
More recently, Baton Rouge teams have played in three straight 5A title games, including 2013 when Catholic High beat Zachary to win an all-local 5A final. No one is booking reservations to the LHSAA’s state baseball tournament set for May 12-14 in Sulphur just yet.
The reason? They’re focused on the area’s competitive 5A districts, 4-5A and 5-5A. Both districts are set to begin play Thursday, weather permitting.
“It comes down to who can be consistent over the next month,” Zachary coach Jesse Cassard said. “You could say us, Denham Springs and Central are probably the favorites. Catholic is favored in the other district with Dutchtown, East Ascension and St. Amant in there too.
“Because of the power ratings, district play probably doesn’t mean as much as it used to. There’s no doubt we’ll test each other.”
Catholic, the 5A runner-up to Barbe a year ago, is the hottest team now. The Bears (17-4) of 5-5A take a 12-game winning streak into a 6:30 p.m. Thursday game at East Ascension (10-9).
“The big thing for us is senior leadership,” Catholic coach Brad Bass said. “These guys play hard and work to do the right things. They set the tone. We’re not going into district assuming we’ll dominate. We know better than that.”
Shortstop Josh Smith, an LSU signee, leads Catholic with a .435 batting average. Brian Fairbanks (5-1), who tossed a no-hitter in the Bears’ 11-0 win over Denham Springs on Tuesday, is the top pitcher.
This is no shortage of high profile players in the two districts. Junior pitchers Makhail Hilliard of Central (3-1) and Blayne Enlow of St. Amant are LSU commitments. Denham Springs’ Brock Batty (4-0) is another top junior pitcher and a University of Louisiana at Lafayette commitment.
St. Amant shortstop Adam Sevario (Florida International) and Dutchtown’s Caleb Ricca (Northwestern State) also are Division I signees.
Dutchtown (13-7) has had its ups and downs, like most area teams. Ricca and first-baseman Payton Stafford (also Northwestern State-bound) are the top hitters. Cade Blanchard (3-1) and Britton Benoit help lead a deep pitching staff.
“I think Catholic has to be the favorite,” Dutchtown coach Chris Schexnaydre said. “They’re solid in all phases of the game. You have to be able to match that. We’ve played a lot of good teams. We’ve got to get the consistency and confidence back.”
Like EAHS, St. Amant (10-9) is a game above .500. Tyler Tidwell is 3-0. Sevario is hitting .353, and third baseman Ivan Prejean is at .350 for the Gators.
“We’ve been up one game and down the next,” St. Amant coach Troy Templet said. “Putting it together for a four or five games in a row is something we need.”
East Ascension pitcher Austin McInnis (4-1, two earned runs in 42 innings) may be one of the area’s best-kept secrets. Shortstop Preston Thrash (.325) leads a Spartans team that routinely starts five sophomores.
District 4-5A has its balance. Zachary (12-9), DSHS (12-7), Central (13-7), Walker (11-9) and Live Oak (10-8) are all comparable recordwise. Scotlandville (15-2-1) is off to its best start ever and looks to crack the top group.
“You can’t take anybody for granted in this district,” Central coach Mike Forbes said. “We understand that Scotlandville is not a pushover now. The bottom line is this: You better be ready to play every day or you’ll get beat. That should prepare all of us for the playoffs.”
Second baseman P.J. Cannon (.426) is the lone returning starter for Zachary. Robert Burke (3-3), another senior, is the top pitcher for the Broncos. Shortstop Joseph Schoppe (.338 14 RBIs) and freshman outfielder Cade Doughty of Denham Springs are others to watch.