The Owl is the official mascot of Chalmette High School athletic teams.
But Phoenix might be the more appropriate bird to describe the flight of this year’s baseball team in its rise from the ashes of a 2-14 start to playoff-bound undefeated District 8-5A champion.
The Owls scored three unearned runs in the first inning and coupled that with a complete-game two-hitter by junior Antoine Harris to defeat East Jefferson 3-2 in the District 8-5A tournament championship game Monday at Chalmette’s Noel Suarez Field.
The district crown was the second straight for Chalmette (11-15, 9-0 in 8-5A) and third in four seasons. More significant was the automatic berth in the Class 5A state playoffs for a team that was ranked No. 39, seven places too low to qualify for the 32-team field.
“These last few games I’ve recognized the kids having a sense of urgency,’’ Chalmette coach Mike Thomas said. “Before every district game, we would tell them you’re playing for a chance to get in the state playoffs. We knew we had to go 9-0. So it was you win and you’re in.’’
Chalmette went 7-0 in the league’s regular season to earn the No. 1 seed in the district tournament, then defeated No. 4 seed Ehret 5-1 on Friday before squeezing past No. 2 East Jefferson.
Harris (4-3) improved to 3-0 with two saves in district play after striking out seven, walking only one and surrendering two earned runs, both in the second inning.
From that point forward, the hard-throwing 6-foot-4 right-hander retired 15 batters in order before hitting a batter with one out in the top of the seventh. Harris got the Warriors' final two hitters on a flyout to center and infield grounder to second.
“I think I commanded the strike zone pretty well," Harris said. “I came back after that second inning and I painted the corners a lot. I trusted my defense to make plays behind me, and I trusted the calls of the coaches. I feel like this was my best game of the season."
Chalmette took advantage of four East Jefferson errors and a hit batter to score three unearned runs in the bottom of the first with designated hitter Josh Gray delivering a key two-run single to put the Owls ahead 3-0.
Shortstop Alex Crews, right fielder Jonathan Deharde and first baseman Jyron Richard started the inning by reaching on errors. Crews scored via a throwing error that allowed Richard to reach base, and catcher Brennan Bradley was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Gray.
After another EJ error re-loaded the bases, Warriors right-hander Joshua Ruckhaber worked out of the jam by recording a flyout and two strikeouts.
Ruckhaber (6-4) allowed three hits with two strikeouts and no walks while right fielder Chase Hellbach and designated hitter Mario Fletes drove in EJ’s two runs in the second via a double and sacrifice fly, respectively.
East Jefferson (16-12, 6-3) entered with a No. 33 ranking and was unlikely to pick up any ground given Chalmette’s overall record. The Warriors finish the season with two 4 p.m. home games against Warren Easton on Thursday and Patrick Taylor on Friday.
“I thought the pressure would be on those guys because they were the one seed and we were the two seed," EJ coach Karl Williams said. “I knew it would be a low-scoring game with Antoine pitching. He was on.
“He had great command of the strike zone. He just got stronger as the game went on. He was unhittable. We put some balls in play, but it was just a pitchers’ duel from the second inning on."