Blue Jays Leave Their Hearts, and a Few Tears, on a Baseball Field in Sulphur
Jesuit’s appearance at the LHSAA State Baseball Tournament in Sulphur turned out to be an abbreviated one. The Jays’ plan was to throttle the Eagles of Live Oak, their opponent in the semifinal game, stick around on Saturday to play in the championship game, and return home with their 21st state baseball title.
But the best laid plans sometimes go awry. The Jesuit baseball train that steadily glided forward the entire season, save for a few hiccups here and there, derailed Friday afternoon in Sulphur. In inflicting defeat upon the 3rd seeded Blue Jays, 6-5, the 10th seeded Eagles showed everyone (again) that they are the brash upstart team of Class 5A. (The Eagles will play the Barbe Bucs for the state title on Saturday.)
The Eagles nicked Jesuit senior pitcher C.J. Avrard for eight hits and all six runs. Avrard, who typically takes two or three innings to find his groove, had an inauspicious start — his very first pitch was a bullseye on the back of the Eagles’ leadoff batter. Avrard then threw four straight balls and walked the second Eagle batter. Coach Joey Latino wisely called a mound conference in an effort to calm some nerves.
Live Oak managed to score two runs in the 1st inning and added two more in the 2nd. Before Blue Jay fans could finish a bag of popcorn, Jesuit was in a 4-0 hole from which the team never recovered. In the bottom of the 2nd, the Jays narrowed the gap to 4-3. Catcher Trent Forshag walked and courtesy runner Nick Ray was sent to first. Left fielder Spencer Miller singled, then designated hitter Stephen Sigle laid down a perfect bunt. The throw from the Eagle catcher was off the mark and Ray and Miller scored while Sigle ended up at 3rd base. (Ray was ejected from the game by the home plate umpire who cited the freshman for elbowing the Eagles’ catcher.) Center fielder Nathan Zimmer singled to score Sigle for the third run..
The Eagles were up and down in the 3rd inning. In the bottom, Jesuit tied the game, 4-4, and loaded the bases with no outs. It was the first of two rare opportunities that the Jays squandered. The Eagles came back and scored one run in the 4th to retake the lead and another run in the 5th inning. With two outs in the 5th, Avrard was relieved by senior Glynn Hyer, who gave up only one hit but otherwise grounded the Eagles for the rest of the game. The Jays could muster only six hits and it looked as if the engine pulling the train was running on empty. The Jays were striking out, and worse, were not swinging their bats at balls that had “hit me” written all over the stitches. A total of 11 Blue Jays were left stranded on bases and that doesn’t count the 1st inning when it was 3-up and down. Twice the Jays loaded the bases, but each time could not push any runs across the plate. Talk about failure to launch.
“We could not get the lead and that’s important,” said Coach Latino. “We no sooner tie the game in the 3rd inning when Live Oak comes back and scores a run to take the lead again.”
But the Blue Jays never gave up. Until the last out in the bottom of the 7th inning, the Jays kept alive their hopes and dreams for another state championship (the last one was 2011).
Instead, the Jays’ 2014 season ended with an enviable 32-6 record, marking the first time a Jesuit baseball team racked up more than 30 wins.
“It’s hard to get the right words,” Coach Latino told his Blue Jays in an emotional gut-check impromptu gathering under the bleachers that overlook Field #41 where the team played their hearts out. “This hurts but I’m glad we are going to hurt together. That’s part of growing up, being a family, part of the love you give to each other, and part of the educational program you’re in. It’s ok to hurt, it’s ok.You made this season enjoyable. We had 32 wins and you should be proud of that. When we break from here, I want you to go to your parents and thank them, thank them for giving you the opportunity to get a Jesuit education and for helping you build your character. I love every last one of you, every last one.”
In hushed tones, the Blue Jays said a prayer, then went to hug their parents. Fifteen minutes later, the Jays and their coaches climbed aboard their chartered bus for the three and a half hour ride back home.
They say that winning is easy, it builds confidence, sells tickets, and makes everyone happy. Everyone likes a winner. How players and teams handle defeat is the real test of character, courage, and resilience. And that puts Jesuit’s 2014 varsity baseball team in a league of its own.
N.O. Advocate: Jesuit falls 6-5 after leaving 11 on base
Southwest Daily News: LHSAA Super 28 Class 5A semifinals: Live Oak upsets Jesuit, Barbe edges St. Amant