The Zachary High School baseball team (17-16) came into the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs on a three-game losing streak that lowered its power ranking to a 13 seed.
First-round opponent East Ascension (21-13) was on the upswing with four straight regular-season victories to close the season but through strength of schedule only garnered a 20 seed. Consequently, the Broncos were home for the opening round playoff game at John Herty Field at the Zachary Youth park on April 27. The winner was to face fourth seed Sam Houston who disposed of 29 seed Northside by a score of 8-2 on April 26 for a three-game series in the regional round.
Though the teams had several common opponents (e.g. Catholic, Dutchtown, Central and Denham Springs) the Broncos and Spartans did not play each other during the 2021 regular season.
The Broncos would start ace Braden Clark who gave up one run on three hits in the top of the first as East Ascension came out with bats ablazing. The Spartans started strong defensively, retiring the first three batters for the Broncos in the bottom of the first. The Spartans would continue to effectively swing the lumber, picking up another run on two hits in the second. The Broncos found some offense in the second on a single by Devin Hannum and a walk, but Brady Neyland’s fly to right field would end the inning.
Clark began to bear down in the top of the third, giving up a base hit but allowing no runs. The Broncos offense responded in the bottom of the frame as AJ Bailey hit a one-out base hit, advanced to second on a grounder and scored on a base hit by Garrett Beadle.
The Broncos defense and Clark’s pitching responded in the fourth, allowing no runs and stranding a Spartan runner on third base. The rally started when the Broncos came to bat as Hannum crushed a double to center field to start the fourth. A single by Lane Felder advanced him to third.
Felder would steal second, and a base hit by Neyland sent Hannum over the plate to tie the score. The Broncos took their first lead on a single by Will Romero that scored Felder. After four innings, the Broncos appeared to have turned things around and led 3-2.
The Spartans found their offensive groove again and responded with three runs to take a 5-3 lead. Jamari Valery’s single in the bottom of the fifth drove EA's starter to the dugout. Hannum’s walk put the leading run at the plate, but a deep flyout by Reed Felder and a strikeout would strand two; the Broncos would fail to capitalize.
The sixth inning saw East Ascension continue to pressure the Broncos and score another run before the Broncos turned a 5-4-3 double play to escape further damage in the inning. Neyland provided the Broncos offense a lift to start the sixth with a single, but East Ascension would turn a double play of its own to empty the bases; a strikeout ended the side.
The Broncos would rally in the seventh, but the Spartans' lead was too much and the Broncos fell 9-6. The Spartans finished with 14 hits to the Broncos 10.
“We had some highs and lows, but this group truly thought they were in the game until the last out was made,” Zachary coach Jacob Fisher said.
The Broncos say goodbye to seniors Jace Harvin, AJ Bailey, Devin Hannum, Jamari Valery, Austin Nicholas, Reed Felder and Garrett Beadle.
“This is a special group to me because I coached a good amount of them since they were 9 years old," Fisher noted.
Challenges were mighty for this group as Fisher said.
“They did not have a normal senior year with no prom, homecoming, bus rides to games, or just hanging out in the locker room," he said, adding that despite those setbacks, the players never complained and “showed up to work every day.”
Though the season may not have been what they had hoped, Fisher indicated that “my staff and I truly feel like the program grew as a whole and we know what we need to do going into the offseason.”
As Fisher and his staff now point to 2022, they will have several key players returning, and the outlook is bright.
“We had several players that will return next year that had zero varsity experience that grew up fast. It is going to be a fun ride with this group and we are ready to get back to work,” Fisher said.