Talk about a long wait.
The three New Orleans-area baseball teams — three of the most successful over the past quarter century — are still alive with a chance to hoist a state championship trophy Tuesday, but it’s been a journey at least two decades in the making.
In fact, no player on any of these three teams was alive the last time St. Paul’s (1999) and Rummel (1996) reached the pinnacle of the state baseball world in Louisiana. And for St. Charles Catholic coach Wayne Stein, it’s been a near lifelong quest for the program still searching for its first championship trophy since the school opened in 1978.
“This is a tough river parish, blue-collar community group, and these are the type of kids that aren’t going to back down from anybody,” Stein said after his team’s 5-2 over No. 2 St. Thomas More in Sunday’s semifinal. “Sometimes you just get to the state championship, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. But I wouldn’t trade any of those times we’ve been there for anything else.”
Stein is referring to the program’s seven trips to a state championship game, all of which the Comets lost and all of which he was part of — once as a player, five times as an assistant and once as the team’s head coach in 2016. During his six-year head coaching stint alone, St. Charles has been to Sulphur four times.
In Tuesday’s Division II title game at noon against top-seeded University, the sixth-seeded Comets will face last year’s runner-up for its third consecutive year.
“I think we’re a gritty bunch, and whether we’re the most talented group or not, I don’t know, but I know we expected to be here,” Stein said. “We’ve got plenty of pitching and so do they. It’s going to come down to whoever plays best on Tuesday.”
For No. 4 Rummel, Tuesday’s Division I game against No. 3 St. Paul’s at 3 p.m. has more added weight that your traditional final might carry. Win or lose, the contest is coach Nick Monica’s final game in the Raiders dugout before he transitions into solely being the school’s football coach — duties he’s split since last Monday with the start of spring practice.
The news came weeks before the start of the baseball season and has been a rallying cry for his young roster. But sitting at 15-12 and a 2-6 mark in District 9-5A action with just over a week left in the regular season, it looked as if the dream of delivering Monica his first baseball state championship ring — to go with those he won as an assistant football coach in 2012 and 2013 — was just a pipe dream.
But the grit his Raiders have shown in winning seven consecutive games since — including evading top-seeded Catholic’s two-out rally in the bottom of the seventh inning in Sunday’s 4-3 semifinals win — has put Rummel’s dream into focus.
“During the regular season as we got closer to the finish, it all started to hit me more, but once the playoffs came around, it’s all been more about enjoying it still, especially in games like (Sunday),” Monica said. “Getting to where we are now, I’m glad we’re here, and I’d obviously like to finish winning my last game.
"It’s been a good run, and I’m glad my kids have been able to experience this in my final season.”
And for St. Paul’s, which boasts a roster with 11 seniors — more than double any of the other Division I semifinalists — Tuesday’s game is actually nothing new. Whereas St. Charles last made it to a state title game in 2016, and Rummel in 2012, the Wolves were here just a year ago, having fallen to then-defending state champs and top-seeded John Curtis in a tight 2-1 contest.
Despite the 20-year gap between the program’s last state title, Tuesday’s clash with Rummel is less about making history and more about rebounding and finish the quest the first went on a year ago.
“I don’t think this all feels like anything new. This is going to be our fourth game in Sulphur in the last year,” St. Paul's senior William Duncan. “(Sunday’s 4-3 semifinal win over Brother Martin) might have been even crazier in the last inning finish. Nothing is really going to be rallying us at this point. It’s going to be a fight, and we’re ready for it.”