John Curtis baseball coach Jeff Curtis had to stand and watch a pair of plays Thursday that didn’t quite look like the two-time defending LHSAA Division I state champion teams of the recent past.

At Mike Miley Stadium against Division II power De La Salle, the Patriots gave up a scoreless tie with runners on first and second after a passed ball moved the leading runner to third, before an errant throw to the corner bag gave the Cavaliers ample time to score the runner.

Then, in the bottom of the seventh with one out and runners on first and third, Curtis signaled sophomore Michael Curtis to bunt for an attempted squeeze play. The bunt looked good to the Curtis coach.

“For sure I thought he was going to be safe,” he said of Dax Ford’s dash home from third. “But (De La Salle) got to it quickly and made a good throw and applied the tag. That’s what good teams do: they execute.”

The Patriots have become accustomed to being on the right side of those plays far more often than not the past two years.

During a stretch where the team went 58-10 in two seasons, both ending in state championships, John Curtis went 10-2 in games decided by one run. Though the team became known for its power hitting from current LSU freshman and last year’s LSWA Mr. Baseball Cade Belso, along with its lights-out pitching from senior tandem Ian Landreneau and Will Rippoll that went a combined 21-0, the team’s coach said coming through in those clutch moments pushed the team from great to legendary.

“Those all come through execution, a bunt or a two-out opposite-field RBI hit, maybe a safety squeeze. There’s a variety of ways to win a baseball game,” Curtis said. “We didn’t always do it with the glitz and glamor of a no-hitter or a home run. And it’s important for a team to understand you can win games through execution.”

That consistency of execution has been a hair off this season, as the Patriots entered Saturday with a 6-8 record, averaging just a hair over four runs per game after two consecutive seasons near seven runs per outing. They have just two seniors and only one full-time returning starter in Ford’s presence on the mound.

And as hard as it may be to shrug off the legacy that hovers over the players on last year’s squad that won the program’s ninth state title, boosting it to No. 7 nationally in a USA Today poll, Curtis said his youngsters have to find a way.

When it comes down to it, regular-season wins are nice, but the baseball that truly matters is still a month away with Division I postseason action. Because of the nature of their specific division where every team earns a playoff berth, gradually growing into a consistent team in mid-April is more important that regular season win-totals at this point.

“In a program like ours, a school like ours, the ultimate goal is always to win a state championship, but the path you take to get there can be several different ones,” Curtis said. “You can have a really strong team that plays really well early, and they can somewhat get bored or complacent and fall short.

“But if you have a young team that plays a really tough early schedule that can navigate through their season and get better and make a run at the end, that can give you a state title.”

The record may not show it, but the Patriots have been in nearly every game they’ve played this season up until the last few innings — even in last week’s 8-1 loss to Division II No. 2 E.D. White. John Curtis was down 3-1 in the sixth and let what would have been an inning-ending out slip through its hands.

This week, the three-time defending Catholic League champions begin their quest for yet another title, hoping to put the lumps they have taken to good use. They sit sixth out of seven teams in the latest Division I power rankings and open with a series against No. 4 Rummel before top-ranked Brother Martin.

In 12 games, Curtis and the rest of his coaching staff will have a much better idea of whether this youthful group can challenge for yet another state championship, despite the adversity its faced.

“I think top to bottom, this is the best the league has been since we’ve been in it,” Curtis said. “It depends on what team can come together and gel in April and May. I hate to go out on a limb, but I think the eventual state champion can come out of here.”


Follow Nathan Brown on Twitter, @nbrownadvocate.