Over the past 20 years, baseball has become more of a specialized sport in which youngsters often chase individual goals and dreams.
One dream — that of bringing an elusive state baseball title home — has united a Lutcher High team that will make history by appearing in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Class 4A State Tournament that begins Friday in Sulphur.
“Lutcher has had good teams through the years, and I’ve had several myself,” LHS coach Davy Clement said. “To me, the thing that sets this team apart is the way everybody has bought into what we’re doing.
“It started with the kids, and they went home and talked to their parents. Everybody has accepted a role, and you don’t have people second-guessing every decision. Everybody is behind us, including the whole community. You don’t see that much in this day and age.”
The second-seeded Bulldogs (27-4) meet No. 6 Tioga in a 4A semifinal set for 4 p.m. Friday at McMurry Park. It is the first time Lutcher has advanced to a semifinal since the LHSAA started its tourney format a decade ago. Lutcher’s previous state titles in baseball were in 3A in 1975 and 2A in 1967.
Clement, the Bulldogs coach for 81/2 years, said this Lutcher team got its early motivation from a stinging quarterfinal loss to Holy Cross a year ago. The Bulldogs had a three-run lead with one out in the sixth inning before HCHS rallied to claim an 11-9 win.
Lutcher entered the season with a mixture of motivation and potential. Pitcher Jared Poche (10-0) committed to LSU before his junior year and signed with the Tigers last fall. The left-hander has a solid complement in his next door neighbor, right-hander Corey Merrill (5-1), who signed with Tulane in November.
“There was a competitve thing with us when we were growing up,” Merrill said of Poche. “I think we started playing together when we were four. But since we got to high school we’ve had each other’s back. That’s how it is for the team, too. We felt like we could have done better last year. As seniors, we want to do things right.”
Two other seniors, outfielder Zachary Zimmer and catcher Chase Calderera, are bound for Baton Rouge Community College. Zimmer leads the Bulldogs with a .425 batting average, just ahead of Poche (.423).
Merrill points to Monday’s 11-1 quarterfinal win over 10th-seeded DeRidder as a show of strength for the Lutcher program. The Bulldogs scored four runs in the second and sixth innings, while Poche scattered three hits and struck out 12 in front of an overflow crowd of about 1,200 fans.
Clement lauds all seven of his seniors, including reserve Ryan Jackson, who often leads cheers on the bench. The LHS coach also notes the strength the team has shown since the death of Curt Calderera, the grandfather of Chase, and a relative of several other players. The word “Finish” that is framed by angel wings is embroidered on all team caps as a tribute.
Now Lutcher goes from tribute to a reboot. Tioga is not a new foe. The Bulldogs beat THS in a regular-season game and a playoff game in 2012. Poche and Merrill said their team will be ready.
“We’ve got to be hungry to win,” Poche said. “We’ve got to fight like Bulldogs.”