Central Catholic High School's Gregory Leger releases a pitch during Tuesday's Division IV quarterfinal contest against Ascension Christian. Central Catholic won, 7-1, to advance to its sixth straight semifinal. Leger tossed a two-hitter with five strikeouts. (The Daily Review/Geoff Stoute)
CCHS advances to sixth straight semifinal with 7-1 win
With his team down 1-0 heading to the bottom of the fourth in Tuesday’s Division IV quarterfinal contest, Central Catholic Coach Tyler Jensen gathered his top-seeded squad before their at bat and simply told them to relax and stop trying to do too much because they still had plenty of time to counter No. 8 Ascension Christian’s lone run in the fast-moving contest.
The advice worked as Central Catholic scored three runs in the fourth and four more in the fifth en route to a 7-1 victory and advanced to the semifinals for the sixth straight year (five in Class 1A and one in Division IV).
“You got to remember those are 14-18-year-old guys,” Jensen said. “There are a couple of hundred people here. You’re not used to these types of crowds in regular season games. Usually, you got half of this here, and you get over anxious, you’re used to having success and things start going against you a little bit and you just get frustrated.”
Jensen said his job is to calm them down and let leadership do the rest.
Central Catholic (26-7) will face No. 4 Ascension Catholic May 10 at 5:30 p.m. on field 40 at McMurray Park in Sulphur.
“I think it’s one of those things … we kind of take for granted around here,” Jensen said. “I know I don’t. It’s a pretty amazing thing, and it just shows you the type of guys we have come through this program and how hard they work. These guys very easily could have been not hard workers with all the guys that we had returning and just expected to get there, but from day one, they’ve gotten after it, maybe as hard as any team that we’ve had.”
Meanwhile, Ascension Christian (21-10) won its first playoff game in school history a week ago with a 10-5 victory against No. 9 St. Frederick and was making its first quarterfinal appearance in school history Tuesday.
In Tuesday’s win, Gregory Leger and Thomas Garber led off the bottom of the fourth with back-to-back singles to left field before Blake Hidalgo laid down a bunt on which Ascension Christian’s first baseman unsuccessfully tried to get the lead runner out at third base, loading the bases.
Samarick Paul followed with a two-RBI double over the right fielder’s head before Tyler Longman laid down a squeeze bunt for a 3-0 lead.
In the fifth, Central Catholic added four runs with two outs.
With a runner at second base, Leger grounded out to shortstop, and the throw was wide left of first base, allowing a run to score.
Two batters later, Hidalgo connected on a two-RBI single to centerfield to give Central Catholic a 6-1 advantage.
The last run came home on Longman’s RBI-single to centerfield.
“Hats off (to Central Catholic),” Ascension Christian Coach Conrad Gayle said. “That’s why they’re the No. 1 seed. They’ve been there before, and they knew what it takes, and they play a full seven-inning game. I got so much respect for that ball club and that coach. It’s a well-coached team. As you can tell, it’s (a) very experienced team, and we had them. Nic (Montalbano) threw a great few innings, and that fourth inning we left some balls here and there that you kind of want back, and they made you pay. … That’s why they won it last year, and they have a great shot to win it again.”
Ascension Christian scored its run in the top of the first when Payton Bahlinger, who reached on a leadoff walk, stole second base and advanced to third base on a passed ball, scored on a sacrifice fly to centerfield by Mason Braud.
After that initial score, Leger — Central Catholic’s pitcher — and his defense didn’t allow a runner past second base the remainder of the game. Leger earned the win as he tossed a two-hitter. In seven innings, he surrendered one run (one earned) on two hits with one walk, one hit batter and fanned five.
“Gregory Leger was absolutely outstanding on the mound,” Jensen said. “His pitch count was like below 80 pitches in seven innings, which is just unheard of, especially for him. He’s a guy that sometimes maybe his pitch count gets a little higher, but he was really, really, really good. Our defense was really, really, good. But it was just good to see us execute, especially in the later innings. The game was really fast and was going by really fast. Our guys calmed down, started having a good approach at the plate and made some things happen.”
Paul led Central Catholic with a 2-for-3 performance with a double and two RBIs, while Hidalgo was 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs. Other top Central Catholic offensive contributors included Longman, 1-for-2, with two RBIs, and Garber, 2-for-3.
Nic Montalbano suffered the loss. In six innings, he surrendered seven runs (three earned) on nine hits with one strikeout.
Offensively, Braud led Ascension Christian with a 1-for-2 performance with an RBI, while Josh Diez was 1-for-2 with a double.
While Ascension Christian had four errors, the team overcame three of them and made some nice plays.
“I’m so proud of our guys,” Gayle said. “We competed, and that’s all you can ask from a high school team, from my guys, is to compete. … At some point throughout any game, you’re going to face adversity, and we did. We had some errors, but we competed. Nic is our guy. He’s our bulldog on the mound, and we’re going to compete behind him, and he did a heck of a job to keep us in the game.”