Central has been anything but the favorite to win the Class 5A baseball championship each of the past two years.
The Wildcats were seeded No. 7 in 2017 and No. 8 in 2018. Playing as underdogs, Central won the state title both seasons. The Wildcats defeated West Monroe 4-2 in 2017 and Sulphur 4-0 in 2018 in the final.
This year’s Central team was seeded even lower at No. 17. However, the Wildcats successfully opened defense of their back-to-back championships by once again knocking off Sulphur 2-0 on Monday.
Central won while collecting just one hit – a bunt single.
The challenge will only get greater this weekend when Central travels to Lake Charles to meet top-seeded Barbe. The first game of the best-of-three regional series is set for 6 p.m. Friday. The second game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday. If needed, a third game would also be played afterward.
Without a doubt, Central will again be expected to have its season ended by Barbe – in a matchup of teams who have won the last five Class 5A championships. The Bucs were the state champion in 2014-16 and were upset by the Wildcats 10-5 in last year’s semifinals.
“It doesn’t matter who you are facing,” Central coach Mike Forbes said. “In baseball, any team can beat any team on any given day. Two years ago, West Monroe probably would have beat us nine times out of 10. But we won that day.
“Even with the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds, people looked at us as major underdogs,” Forbes said. “Our guys are used to that. We have proven that we can go win in hostile territory. We have proven that we can beat No. 1 seeds. We just have to play Central baseball.”
In the Class 5A quarterfinals a year ago, Central traveled to district rival and top-seeded Zachary and won the decisive third game of that series. The Wildcats moved their record above the .500 mark at 17-16 by edging Sulphur behind the shutout pitching of Drew Lasseigne.
“Lasseigne was phenomenal,” Forbes said. “He struck out 12 of the 21 outs. That takes the pressure off the defense where it doesn’t have to make as many plays. It gave a boost to our defense.”
The Wildcats’ two runs were the result of putting down bunts. A throwing error on one bunt allowed the first run to score. Later in the inning, a bunt single moved a runner to third base from where he scored on a sacrifice fly.
“It’s amazing what bunting can do for a team,” Forbes said. “It adds pressure on the defense. In the state championship game against West Monroe, we started a rally by bunting. They mishandled a few bunts and we got an early lead. I can look back at some point the last two years in the playoffs where our bunt game has propelled us to victory.”
Barbe, under veteran coach Glenn Cecchini, is known for its use of small ball. Forbes will have his team prepared to successfully defend the Buccaneers’ numerous bunts.
“As much as we stress (bunting) on the offensive side, we also stress it on the defensive side,” Forbes said. “We want to take outs when they bunt. You don’t panic. You don’t freak out. You make sure you get an out somewhere.
“Barbe is not going to change how they play,” Forbes said. “They play fast and they play aggressive. They try to put pressure on you at any time of the game. They have great athletes. We must keep our composure and not let the big inning happen. Barbe is looking to score multiple runs in an inning – not just two runs.”
The winner of the Central-Barbe series is matched against the winner of the Live Oak-Acadiana series in the Class 5A quarterfinals the following weekend where Forbes knows his team will be another road underdog if it can upset Barbe.
“We are going to try to do something this weekend a lot of people don’t think we can do,” Forbes said. “We seem to play better when our season is on the line, when our backs are to the wall.”