It was approaching midnight Thursday when the clock finally struck 12 on Marty Luquet’s four-decade-old drought as a head coach without a state championship.
Gauthier Amedee’s eighth state crown in American Legion baseball arrived in impressive fashion in Luquet’s second season as coach of the Wombats with a 9-1 victory against Retif Oil on Wednesday night in the championship game of the state tournament played at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium in New Orleans.
Right-handers Jack Merrifield and Preston Thrash combined to strike out nine and pitch a five-hitter while Thrash went 2-for-2 with a two-run triple and three RBIs to help Gauthier Amedee win its first state Legion championship since 2013.
Jesuit-based Retif was vying for its 14th American Legion state title until suffering its second loss in three tournament games against the Wombats.
Gauthier Amedee’s victory set off a raucous dog pile celebration on the mound by the Wombats, who had suffered a 4-1 loss to Retif earlier Wednesday evening in the first game of the championship series.
“For 38 years I’ve been watching other people’s kids dog pile and now this is the first time I’ve gotten to watch my team do so. And it’s a wonderful sight,’’ said Luquet, 61, who directed Destrehan to two Class 5A prep state finals in 2003 and 2005 before retiring in 2014 following 13 seasons there.
Gauthier Amedee (32-3) completed a 4-1 run through the six-day, double elimination event by winning for the 10th time in its past 11 games while Retif (19-5-1) finished 4-2 in the tournament.
Both teams already were assured of berths in the upcoming Mid-South Regional Tournament scheduled for Aug. 8-13 at Kirsch-Rooney by virtue of having advanced to the state final.
Jesuit’s First District champions were guaranteed a spot even before the state tournament began because they are serving as host team for the Mid-South that pits seven state champions and a host team in a battle for a berth to the American Legion Baseball World Series scheduled for Aug. 16-21 in Shelby, North Carolina.
With no such guarantee, Gauthier Amedee was determined not to repeat last year’s hiccup when the Wombats, playing with most of its current players, were eliminated in the semifinals.
“Last year we choked at state and we weren’t going to choke it again this year,’’ said Thrash, a slick-fielding shortstop from East Ascension, who retired five of the final six outs by strikeout in two innings of relief of Merrifield. “We’re going to Shelby.
“I think we played well. We came through when we needed to. Pitching and defense were key for us along with getting a hit at the right times.’’
Merrifield (2-0) struck out four and walked three while allowing three hits and one earned run in pitching five solid innings less than 24 hours after retiring the game’s final out for a save in a 7-6 victory against the St. Landry Indians on Tuesday night. That win guaranteed the Wombats a berth in the Mid-South.
“It is awesome winning a state championship,’’ said Merrifield, a first baseman/pitcher from Dutchtown. “Gauthier Amedee last won one in 2013 and we’ve only heard stories about it. Hopefully, we can keep it going in the regional.’’
The Wombats scored six runs in the fourth inning and another run in the fifth after opening the scoring with two controversial unearned runs in the second inning.
Right fielder Carson Dabadie and left fielder Jordon Badame started the second inning rally by reaching via infield errors with one out. After reaching base, Dabadie scored from first when a Badame grounder to third was thrown away.
The controversy began when Dabadie appeared to be clearly out at home plate before dislodging the ball from catcher Zack Casbonne. Casbonne, Retif’s cleanup batter, shockingly was ejected by the home plate umpire for blocking the base.
After a protest by Retif coach Kenny Goodlett proved unsuccessful, Thrash followed with a RBI-single to score Badame from second to make it 2-0 and further increase the buzz in the bleachers.
“It was a turning point in the game,’’ Luquet said. “They lost one of their best players and it affected them as a team.’’
Gauthier Amedee’s six-run fourth that answered a single run by Retif in the top of the third lessened the impact of the run-scoring ejection.
Thrash hit a two-run triple to drive in the first runs of the fourth and scored on his hit when Retif committed a throwing error. Center fielder Zane Zeppuhar followed three batters later with a two-run single and catcher Reed Babin added a RBI-single to end the scoring.
Thrash walked, stole second and third and scored on a wild pitch for Gauthier Amedee’s final run in the fifth to finish 2 for-2 with a triple, three RBIs and two runs. Zeppuhar, Babin and third baseman William Dunn collected single hits to account for the Wombats’ five-hit total.
“We got a lot more focused,’’ Luquet said of the Wombats’ reaction to the 4-1 loss to Retif. “The (final) game went kind of like you’d expect it. Jesuit has got good players. They play hard. In the first game the breaks went their way. We hit the ball hard, but right at them. On the second game, things changed.’’
RETIF OIL 4, GAUTHIER AMEDEE 1: Junior right-hander Will Hellmers pitched six-plus stout innings and had a RBI-single for Retif’s final run in a Wednesday night victory that necessitated a second championship game.
Retif’s 4-1 victory came in a rematch of a Sunday winner’s bracket game won 6-4 by Gauthier Amedee and allowed the Jesuit-based team an opportunity to play for its 14th American Legion state championship.
Left-hander Will Moran completed the dismantling of the tournament’s final undefeated team by retiring the final two batters with runners at first and second base after Hellmers (4-1) reached the 105-pitch maximum.
Wednesday’s opener was pushed back by a 2½ hour weather delay.
Hellmers (4-1) struck out six, walked three and scattered eight hits in holding the Wombats to a single run before being forced to exit by a 105-pitch count maximum.
Moran relieved Hellmers in the bottom of the seventh after a one-out walk and a single put runners at first and second. Having started the game in center field, Moran then finished the 1-2 count Hellmers had established against Zeppuhar with a strikeout before ending the game by retiring Merrifield on a ground out to third.
Retif scored all the runs Hellmers and Moran would need in a two-run first inning that featured only one hit. Four scoreless innings ensued before the First District champions tacked on a third run in the top of the sixth via a one-out single by Casbonne that was followed by third baseman Conner Bendeck’s RBI-single.
Valigosky paced Retif’s seven-hit offensive with a 3-for-4 effort that included a double, two singles and a RBI. Hellmers, Casebonne, Bendeck and second baseman Matt Alexander each had single hits with Hellmers, Casebonne and Bendeck recording RBI.
Dabadie and Badame paced Gauthier Amedee’s eight-hit attack by each going 2-for-3 with Badame’s hit producing the Wombats’ lone run.
American Legion Baseball State Tournament
(at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium)
Friday, July 6
Game 1: Deanie’s Seafood (Rummel) 7, vs. ES&H (Destrehan) 4
Game 2: Refuel (Shaw) 9, Noranda Bulldogs (Lutcher) 1
Game 3: Southland Hogs (Houma) 2, St. Landry Indians (Opelousas) 0
Game 4: Retif Oil (Jesuit) 13, Crowley Millers 3, 5 innings
Saturday, July 7
Game 5: Best Chevrolet (De La Salle) 4, Deanie’s Seafood (Rummel) 2
Game 6: Gauthier Amedee (East Ascension) 4, Refuel (Shaw) 1
Game 7: ES&H (Destrehan) 3, Crowley Millers (Crowley) 2
Game 8: St. Landry Indians (Opelousas) 17, Noranda Bulldogs (Lutcher) 1, 6 innings
Sunday, July 8
Game 9: ES&H (Destrehan) 7, Deanie’s Seafood (Rummel) 6
Game 10: St. Landry Indians (Houma) 2, Refuel (Shaw) 1
Game 11: Best Chevrolet (De La Salle) 3, Southland Hogs (Houma) 1
Game 12: Gauthier Amedee (East Ascension) 6, Retif Oil (Jesuit) 4
Monday, July 9
Game 13: St. Landry Indians (Opelousas) 6, Southland Hogs (Houma) 2
Game 14: Retif Oil (Jesuit) 11, ES&H (Destrehan) 0, 5 innings
Game 15: Gauthier Amedee (East Ascension) 16, Best Chevrolet (De La Salle) 2
Tuesday, July 10
Game 16: Retif Oil (Jesuit) 10, Best Chevrolet (De La Salle) 4
Game 17: Gauthier Amedee (East Ascension) 7, St. Landry Indians (Opelousas) 6
Wednesday, July 11
Game 18: Retif Oil (Jesuit) 4, Gauthier Amedee (East Ascension) 1
Championship game: Gauthier Amedee (East Ascension) 9, Retif Oil (Jesuit) 1
Mid-South Regional Tournament
Aug. 8-13 at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium
American Legion World Series
Aug. 16-21 at Keeter Stadium, Shelby N.C.