Just as it is on the college level, “rebuilding year” is a unwelcomed phrase for elite high school programs.
It’s certainly the case for the Acadiana baseball program, which, aside from losing eight seniors from a team that won 23 games and earned the No. 3 seed in the Class 5A playoffs, had to replace their coach.
Matt McCullough, named the Louisiana Sports Writers Association Class 5A Coach of the Year in 2016, stepped down as the Wreckin’ Rams’ baseball coach to take over as the school’s football coach when Ted Davidson retired.
So in steps Clay Courtier, who coached under McCullough and McCullough’s father, Scott, at Acadiana. In many ways, Courtier had to start from scratch. He returned just three starting position players and only one pitcher with any kind of experience, most as a reliever.
The good news for Courtier was that many of his new starters would be players that have been in the program for a couple of years but had to wait their turn behind long-time starters. Even his underclassmen that are contributing, like sophomore center fielder Ian Montz and freshman left fielder Cardell Thibodeaux, have played beyond their age.
“I don’t want to say it’s a rebuilding. It’s just a matter of getting experience,” Courtier said. “There’s some talented guys that had very little experience.”
The growth seems to be happening quickly. After starting the season 4-4 — the four defeats were decided by a combined five runs — the Rams (10-4) have won six of their past seven games, including their first two games in the Atchafalaya Challenge this weekend.
They are starting to win those close games now, too. In winning four of their five games last week, they beat Notre Dame, St. Thomas More and Catholic-Baton Rouge each by a run.
“That was a major discussion about two weeks into the season — just figuring out how to win those one-run games,” Courtier said. ... "It’s good to see that they’re kind of learning that process a little bit. It’s baseball. A lot of funny things can happen. But I think they’re starting figure it out.”
Thibodeaux was a responsible for a game-winning hit to win the Catholic game.
“Not really a surprise because I knew his ability coming in,” Courtier said of Thibodeaux, “but just the way he’s handled this level of play has been really pleasing, to say the least.”
The experience the Rams did have entering the season has helped shorten the learning curve. After excelling in a relief role last year, senior lefty Seth Trahan has taken over as Acadiana’s top arm. He throws strikes and keeps hitters off balance by changing speeds.
“He’s really the only one with any varsity experience at all,” Courtier said. “We had a couple of guys that maybe got a few innings, but nothing really to speak of. Early (in the season), it’s just trying to get their feet wet and get them to go out there and compete at this level. Every game we play is a big game, and it’s just trying to get them to understand that. That’s been really the only the big difference.”
The position players are led by the three returners, shortstop Cole Romero, catcher Beau Kirsch and second baseman Garrett Felix. Felix served as the Acadiana’s primary designated hitter last year but also played third baseman when Hunter Tabb, an all-state performer who now plays at LSU-Eunice, pitched. Romero and Kirsch will follow Tabb to LSU-Eunice next year.
“They’re the leaders of our team,” Courtier said of Romero and Kirsch. “We rely heavy on them, and they’ve done a great job so far as far as leading these young guys and other guys in certain situations. Cole was voted captain by his teammates and deservedly so, and he’s off to a great start, as is Beau.”