Central Catholic of Morgan City’s road toward a fourth straight Class 1A state tournament appeared to be in early peril.
Ascension Catholic loaded the bases against CCMC’s starting pitcher Greg Leger in the bottom of the first inning without an out.
After a strikeout, shortstop Samuel Guarisco started a key double play in the Class 1A state quarterfinal matchup, flipping a ground ball to second baseman Tony Pennison, who made the turn and threw to Mitchell Lemoine at first base.
It was the first of several key moments in a 10-inning game before CCMC (23-4) punched its ticket for Sulphur’s McMurray Park with a 2-1 victory and set up a semifinal against No. 7 seed St. Edmund (20-9) at 4 p.m. Friday.
It turns out the assist on the doubleplay was just a warmup for Guarisco, who wooed those in attendance with his next act, taking a certain base hit away to start the second inning.
Collin Landry’s slow grounder was headed through the hole and into left field when Guarisco ranged over to his right, backhanded the ball and got enough of his 5-foot-6, 165-pound body behind a throw to Lemoine, whose nifty scoop ended the inning.
“I think in my high school career that’s probably the best play I ever made,” Guarisco said. “This was in a playoff game where every out is a critical one. When I threw it, I don’t think I saw the first baseman, but he came up and got the ball.”
Central Catholic fourth-year coach Tyler Jensen has come to expect such spectacular defense from Guarisco but even that play sent him looking for superlatives.
“You don’t expect anyone at any level to make a play like that,” Jensen said. “When it was hit, I thought he’d get to it, but I wasn’t sure he had the strength to get it to first base.”
During CCMC’s run to three of the past four consecutive state tournaments one of the constants in that stretch has been Guarisco, a sure-handed shortstop and role-specific pitcher.
Guarisco displayed at an early age the ability to handle pressure-packed situations and deliver veteran-type performances.
With CCMC attempting to return to the state championship game in 2013, and Jensen not wanting to throw his ace on just three days of rest, Guarisco was given the start as a freshman against Ouachita Christian in a game played at Louisiana-Monroe.
Guarisco pitched into the seventh inning, helping CCMC build an 8-3 lead before fending off a late surge for an 8-7 semifinal victory.
“It takes a lot for a freshman to go in and handle a packed college stadium, stepping on the mound against a team who was considered to be one of the best teams in the state,” Jensen said. “He had enough poise to carry us. For the most part he shut those guys down for six innings.”
Guarisco has hit second in CCMC’s lineup, maintaining a team-high .404 average with a homer, five doubles, two triples and 22 RBIS. He’s also scored 28 runs and stolen 12 bases.
With a talented pitching corps dominated by three sophomores, Guarisco has pitched more in relief this season and has maintained a 5-0 record and 1.17 ERA. He was the winning pitcher in Monday’s quarterfinal victory, relying on his trademark curveball to throw two scoreless innings.
“We’re very fortunate to be here all these years I’ve been in high school,” Guarisco said of the state tournament. “We’ve come up short, before but I think this year we have a really good chance of winning it.”