The storm clouds so prevalent throughout Zachary’s baseball season a year ago have dissipated.
Not everything’s been all sunshine — the Broncos endured a rare four-game losing streak — but there’s no comparison to the tumult of last season to the sense of normalcy that’s been prevalent this year.
“I don’t wish that on anybody to go through what our kids and our whole team had to go through last year,” Zachary baseball coach Jesse Cassard said. “But I feel like it’s made our program better. We just preach to play ourselves, execute and take care of business. If we win, we win. If not, then we’ll play hard.”
Zachary (16-8) opens District 4-5A play Thursday against Central (8-15) in a 6 p.m. home game at Zachary Youth Park.
The Broncos head into a three-game homestand (hosting Scotlandville on Saturday and Walker next Tuesday) riding a three-game win streak and are 7-2 in their past nine games.
“We feel the last few games we’re starting to put it all together and are playing well in all three phases of the game,” Cassard said.
In addition to the Central-Zachary game, Denham Springs (14-5) hosts Scotlandville (12-3) at North Park at 5 p.m. and Walker (13-8) travels to Live Oak (8-12) at 6:30 in other 4-5A action.
Parkview Baptist (11-14) entertains West Feliciana (8-13) in a key District 6-3A game at 6:30 matching the co-leaders with 2-0 league marks.
Adversity gripped Zachary’s in the first month of the 2012 season when the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Sportsmanship Committee banned the Broncos and Teurlings Catholic from the state playoffs after a brawl in the first inning of a tournament game in Monroe.
Each school was fined $200 and placed on restrictive probation for the rest of the season and disciplinary probation the entire 2013 year.
Teurlings later appealed the ruling and was allowed back in the playoffs while, Zachary, which was in the midst of winning its district, remained on the outside looking in.
Nearly two months after they were banned, the Broncos won an 11th-hour appeal on a 7-6 vote minutes before a lawyer for the team’s seven seniors was about to file a petition for an injunction to block the ban.
Zachary advanced to the regional round of the playoffs — playing both games without Cassard who was suspended — before falling 2-1 to Hahnville.
Cassard’s five-game suspension carried over to the first three games of this season. Zachary bolted to a 7-1 start, including a 14-13 win over Barbe, a tournament title and a new way of going about its on-the-field business.
“We took it to heart, changed some things, and it really did make us better,” Cassard said of his program. “You can get caught up in who you’re playing. Now we don’t focus on that and focus on ourselves.
“We’re not doing anything different,” Cassard said. “We’re still playing the same type of high-energy baseball. We had to make some adjustments and not be so loud at times. It’s been a really good, fun year.”
Zachary improved to 9-2 with a win over Runnels before riding a roller coaster over the next seven games with four consecutive losses, including three in their tournament, followed by three successive wins over teams with a combined 51-20 record.
Zachary has settled on a lineup featuring four sophomores — three of whom are among the team’s top hitters — and will turn to senior right-hander and University of Louisiana-Monroe signee Trent Crowder (2-3, 3.12 ERA) against Central.
Senior Andre Weber (.438, six doubles, 19 RBIs) is tops in hitting for the Broncos followed by a trio of sophomore outfielders Gabe Hannum (.333), Micah McHugh (.315) and third baseman Ben Myers (.304).
“I think every team hits some type of adversity somewhere during the year,” Cassard said. “It’s either going to break you or make you better. I feel like it’s made us better. We feel like we haven’t played our best baseball yet, but I feel like it’s going to get there. We’re looking forward to playing district now.”