Big fifth inning dooms CCHS
By: GEOFFREY STOUTE
RUSTON — After his team broke the huddle for the final time following its 10-0 defeat to Ouachita Christian in the Class 1A state baseball finals, Central Catholic head coach Tyler Jensen looked at the scoreboard, visibly disgusted.
He looked and pointed that way multiple times during a postgame interview, too.
Jensen had reason to keep looking, especially considering one big inning dashed any chance his 10th-ranked squad had at knocking off No. 1 Ouachita Christian in a five-inning, run-rule defeat.
Leading 2-0 after four innings, Ouachita Christian ended the game in the fifth inning when it scored eight runs off two CCHS relief pitchers to end the game.
“Like I told the guys, sometimes you play against a team that’s a little bit better than you,” Jensen said. “They kept imposing their will. I take the blame … for taking (starter) Nick Longman out, but we felt like it was in our best interest to get some offense. Regardless if they win 10-0 or 2-0, we felt like we needed to do something to get us going at the plate. They just kept swinging. It was their day.”
Jensen said he made the move to take out Longman, who had helped the Eagles retire Ouachita in order in the fourth inning, the only time in the game that happened, because he wanted to bring in Nick Case (who comes in the game when Longman isn’t pitching) to help generate some offense. He also made the move because the top of Ouachita’s order, who had scored their two runs thus far, was coming to bat in the bottom of the fifth.
“Nothing against Nick Longman but Nick Case is a better hitter, and we just wanted some offense in the lineup,” Jensen said.
Across the field, OCS coach Micah Harper said that depth this year, particularly pitching, helped his squad advance past the semifinals where they fell last year.
Although they finally broke through in the fifth inning, Ouachita Christian had been threatening all game, as they put a runner at second base in the first and second innings, but CCHS was able to get out of the first inning with a ground out and the second inning with consecutive flyouts.
In the third inning, though, Ouachita Christian finally broke through with two runs, one on Zachary Stephenson’s RBI single to center field that scored Mark Laird, and a second on Josh Greer’s RBI groundout to shortstop.
For CCHS, the squad left runners in scoring position in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
In the top of the third, Ouachita pitcher David Joe Branch got out of a jam, with CCHS’ Ridge Rousseau at third base, when he struck out Josh Singleton.
In the fourth, Barron Courtney walked and advanced to second on Luke Landry’s bunt single.
However, Eriq Blanchard’s routine grounder to second baseman Colby Webb with one out led to a double play, even though Ouachita’s shortstop, Jordan Washam, never got the ball to first base to complete the feat. On the play, Webb tossed the ball to Washam at second base for the first out, and Landry, while sliding into second base, tripped Washam before he could make a throw to first base. The umpire called runners’ interference on Landry and ruled the play a double play with Blanchard out at first, too.
Again in the fifth inning, Rousseau and Bryson Barbier connected on back-to-back two-out singles before Ouachita brought in Webb to pitch. He forced Singleton to flyout to left field for the final out of the inning.
“The game went exactly how our season hadn’t gone,” Jensen said. “We just couldn’t get the big hit. We couldn’t catch a break. And all season, especially in the playoffs, we started to catch some breaks; we started to turn the corner. (But) I’m proud of these guys. I couldn’t have asked for much more. We just lost to a better team.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Laird began the inning with a standup triple and scored two batters later on Stephenson’s RBI single to right field.
Later in the inning, back-to-back singles by Greer and Braden Bristo increased the lead to 5-0.
Tyler Hoffpauir, who relieved Autin one batter later with the bases loaded and one out, walked a run in when he issued a base on balls to Josh Wilkes.
Brice Gillikin then followed with a three-RBI triple to center field to increase the lead to 9-0 before Laird finished the game with a hit to score Gillikin.
Laird, who was named the games’ outstanding player, led Ouachita Christian with a 3-for-4 performance with an RBI and two runs, while Stephenson added a 2-for-3 performance with two RBIs and two runs. Other Ouachita Christian hitters included Gillikin, 1-for-3 with a run and three RBIs; Greer, 1-for-3 with two RBIs and a run; Bristo, 1-for-2 with a run and an RBI; and Webb, 2-for-2.
For CCHS, Landry, Rousseau and Barbier each had singles.
Longman suffered the loss. In four innings, he surrendered two earned runs on four hits. He walked two and struckut three.
Branch earned the win as he surrendered three hits and struck out three in four and two-thirds innings.
With just two seniors departing from this year’s squad (Longman and Rousseau), the future looks promising for CCHS baseball.
And Jensen made sure his squad soaked in what it was like to lose in such a big game.
“We made sure we all stood there and watched them celebrate,” he said. “It wasn’t to slap our guys in the face. It was more of ‘remember how this feels.’”
Jensen also had high praise for his seniors, who he called “two really good guys.
“Both accepted their roles on our team,” he said. (They are) two guys that care as much or more than anybody. I don’t know how else to say it but it hurts to lose those guys. Like we were telling the young guys, ‘remember this.’ (But) It doesn’t do anything for those seniors.”
Except for the loss, though, both seniors said they couldn’t have ended their senior year any better.
“As a senior, it’s hard to ask for anything else than making it to the state championship game,” Rousseau said. “You fight (and) you fight. You try to come out on top. To make it to the state championship your last game, (there’s) not anything more exhilirating, nothing more exicting.”
Jensen also thanked those who supported the squad on its trip to Ruston.