SULPHUR — Joey Latino waited and waited.
Then he waited some more.
Eventually, he just knew the big hit would come for his Jesuit baseball team.
It never did, and Jesuit’s bid for a 21st state championship came to an end with a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to Live Oak in the Class 5A semifinals of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association State Baseball Tournament at McMurry Park.
Moments after the loss, Blue Jay players exchanged hugs one last time.
“It hurts a great deal,” Latino said.
Live Oak (31-9) advances to Saturday’s 5 p.m. championship game to play Barbe.
“To come in the semifinals and beat not a team, but a program like Jesuit says a lot,” Live Oak coach Greg Briggs said.
“We knew it was going to be a close game. We really felt like if it was a one-run game in the fifth, sixth and seventh that we were going to win it.”
Jesuit, which was seeking its first state title since 2011 in Latino’s first season, finished 32-6.
“This is just a special group that worked their tails off,” he said “It’s a shame that you walk away with a 32-6 season, and you’re disappointed. But unfortunately that’s the game of baseball. We had a ton of opportunities and just couldn’t get that explosive hit.”
Jesuit had plenty of chances. The Blue Jays stranded 11 batters and left the bases loaded twice.
“You just kept saying ‘here it comes, here comes the big inning,’ ” Latino said. “But we never got the hit. And not only were we not getting the big hit, but we were striking out. We weren’t hitting balls hard.”
But despite their hitting woes, the Blue Jays had one last chance.
They managed to get runners on first and third in the last inning.
Blake Baker hit what looked like was going to be Jesuit’s long-awaited clutch hit, but Live Oak right fielder Tyler Alexander tracked it down to end the game.
“I thought when Blake’s ball left the bat, it had a chance,” said Latino. “But it just kind of hung up there. … That last inning epitomizes what this group is about. They are never going to give in and never going to die. That’s what I like the most about this group.”
Jesuit climbed its way out of an early 4-0 hole.
Live Oak scored two runs in the first and two more in the second, thanks in part to a two-run single in the first by Gage Lockwood and an RBI-triple in the second by Lenni Kunert.
But Jesuit responded, taking advantage of several Live Oak errors. The Blue Jays got two of the runs back in the bottom of the second when Trent Forshag walked, and Spencer Miller singled. Stephen Sigle laid down a bunt to move the runners, but the Blue Jays ended up scoring two runs on the play on a throwing error. They added another run in the third on yet another throwing error. The Blue Jays could have done even more damage in the inning, but failed to score any more despite having the bases loaded and no outs.
“I really thought the killer inning was the third,” Latino said. “When that inning ended, I thought if we don’t win this thing, that is going to stick out in my mind. And it does. That inning really sticks out.”
After Live Oak extended its lead to 6-4, Jesuit cut back into the deficit again in the sixth. Brandon Sequeira doubled to start the inning and was driven in by Baker.
But it was as close as Jesuit would get as Live Oak starter Zach Hansen and Kunert, who replaced Hansen in the sixth, kept the Blue Jays in check.
“It seems like Lenni wants to pitch with the bases loaded,” Briggs said.
Kunert, a junior who has committed to LSU, threw the final 1.2 innings. He and Hansen scattered three hits each and combined for six strikeouts.
“I knew I had a great defense behind me so I had to just settle down and throw my pitch,” Kunert said about the seventh inning jam. “I bounced back, and our right fielder caught one to take us to the ‘ship.’ One more to go.”
C.J. Avrard (9-2) started and went 4.2 innings for the Blue Jays before being replaced by Glenn Hyer. Baker led Jesuit at the plate with two hits. They are three of 12 seniors who had an emotional farewell Friday.
“Any adjective you want to assign to these seniors is appropriate,” Latino said. “Hard working. Dedicated. Committed. Unselfish. Trust. I mean it’s all there. As a group, they are the complete package.”