Much has changed since the John Curtis baseball team hoisted the Class 3A state baseball championship trophy last May in Sulphur.
Four new starters are in the lineup for the Patriots.
A new coach will be filling out the lineup card.
And perhaps the most intriguing change: a new district.
Curtis makes its Catholic League debut on Tuesday night when it plays Jesuit at Mike Miley at 7 p.m.
The Patriots lost their Catholic League debut in football and won the one in basketball (both against Brother Martin). Now they look to see what they can do in baseball in a district that is always tough. (We’ll get to some District 9-5A predictions in a minute).
“We challenged ourselves early with some quality competition, and I think we’re ready to go into district play,” Patriots coach Jeff Curtis said. “All the pitching we have tried to develop early has gotten us to where we need to be. We are excited about coming into a quality league and having to perform day in and day out against top notch competition.”
Jeff Curtis is in just his second month as head coach after his brother Johnny left to become linebackers coach at Ball State.
Johnny had coached the baseball team since 2006 and had been an assistant since 1996. Jeff had been an assistant since 2000.
“Everything happened so fast,” Jeff said. “I literally went from assistant one day to head coach the next day, so there is a lot of on-the-job-type stuff. But the program hasn’t changed.”
There are some things that are different though. For example, Johnny Curtis is no longer around to throw batting practice and is no longer there to make in-game decisions.
“So now we have all had to take on some extra responsibilities,” Jeff said.
The Patriots also lost four senior starters off last year’s team that won the school’s third state championship and first since 2006.
“Losing that core group was tough,” Curtis said. “It takes a little while to jell together, but hopefully guys are starting to figure out their roles and we’re coming together a little bit.”
Fortunately for Curtis, their top player from a season ago is back.
Daniel Cabrera, who pitches and plays in the outfield, returns after being named Player of the Year on The New Orleans Advocate’s All-Metro Team.
Cabrera, a junior who has already committed to LSU, also was named Player of the Year in Class 3A a year ago.
He hasn’t pitched as much leading up to district play but will be expected to be a key component on the mound once district play begins.
“We’ve brought him along slowly because his innings are going to mount up here in April and hopefully in May if we get in the playoffs,” Curtis said. “He is right where we want him to be, and he leads the team in most offensive categories.”
Cabrera is batting a team-best .489 with nine doubles and a pair of home runs. Outfielder Mason Matherne and infielder/catcher Jay Curtis are also key ingredients in the Patriots’ lineup.
But will it be enough to get the Patriots to the top of the pack in the always rugged Catholic League?
Here’s our best guess of how things will shake out in league play that since 2007, has pretty much belonged to Jesuit and Brother Martin. The Blue Jays and Crusaders have won or shared the title every year since 2007. That will continue this season, with the title going to ...
1. BROTHER MARTIN: The Crusaders’ 1-2 punch on the mound of Blair Frederick and Keagan Gillies, who have signed with LSU and Tulane respectively. Throw Michael Kirsch (also a Tulane signee) in the mix and it’s easy to see why the Crusaders are considered the favorite.
2. JESUIT: The Blue Jays won the Catholic League last season and it wouldn’t be a total shock if they squeaked it out again. The middle infield is rock solid with shortstop Nick Ray and second baseman Brandon Briuglio. Stephen Sepcich (Tulane) and Austin North also provide some offensive firepower.
3. RUMMEL: Remember last season when Rummel made plenty of noise in the district. Well, those juniors are now seniors, and the Raiders should be in the thick of things again. Catcher Chase Fourcade, who starred for three seasons in football, along with shortstop Darren Willis, spark the Raiders.
4. JOHN CURTIS: The Patriots have Cabrera, so they always have a chance.
5. HOLY CROSS: The Cass Hargis era has started on Paris Avenue. Hargis took over at his alma mater last summer, replacing Greg Battistella, who had been the coach for the past 10 years. It’s Hargis’ first head-coaching gig, but Battistella didn’t leave the cupboard bare. Outfielder Tre Turner, a two-sport star, could have a bug year for the Tigers.
6. SHAW: Catcher Matt Keller and shortstop Cody Sposito lead the Eagles.
7. ST. AUGUSTINE: Infielder Justice McCoy, also the quarterback on the football team, is a key cog for the Purple Knights. But finding a win or two in the Catholic League will be tough.
But any win in this league is tough.