When Live Oak recently defeated Scotlandville in its District 4-5A baseball opener, coach Jesse Cassard recorded the 300th victory of his career.
Cassard, who is in his first season as the Eagles' coach, spent 10 years as the leader of the Zachary program.
Cassard won the Class 4A title in each of his first three seasons with the Broncos. Following a year as the coach at Sulphur and a year out of coaching, Cassard took the job at Live Oak last May.
Now, Cassard has the goal of building Live Oak into a perennial state title contender as he did at Zachary. He definitely believes he can have the Eagles become an elite Class 5A baseball program.
“I always felt Live Oak had baseball talent,” Cassard said. “I know more about Live Oak than I did about Zachary because I have coached so many games against them. The people know me. I thought this was going to be Zachary all over again. I saw the facilities they are building. I felt like this was the perfect fit.”
With Barbe transfer pitcher Zach Von Rosenberg leading the way, Cassard took Zachary to state titles in 2007-09. The Broncos moved up to Class 5A in 2010, but they did not win another state championship.
Zachary lost to Catholic in the 2013 state title game.
Looking for a new challenge, Cassard took the Sulphur baseball job late in the summer of 2016. He commuted from his home in the Baton Rouge area for the 2017 season.
Sulphur reached the Class 5A quarterfinals. But, Cassard resigned after one season and taught in the Zachary school system for a year.
What impressed Cassard about the Live Oak situation were the plans to build a $7 million baseball and softball facility on campus, which is currently under construction.
Cassard knew how important facilities were to his desire of establishing a different baseball culture at Live Oak.
“That facility is what sold me on Live Oak,” said Cassard, whose team is 19-8 overall and 3-2 in District 4-5A. “They showed me the plans, and I asked if they were approved. They said it was approved. There’s a 10,000-square foot indoor facility and a turf field. There is not a lot of maintenance on a turf field, so you can spend more time coaching.”
Cassard learned the game under three very successful coaches. After graduating from Assumption, he played two years at Bossier Parish Community College under coach Jay Artigues – the former baseball coach and present athletic director at Southeastern Louisiana.
Cassard played two seasons at McNeese State under coach Todd Butler, who is now the head coach at Wichita State. Fresh out of college, Cassard accepted a job on the staff of Barbe coach Glen Cecchini, where he was an assistant for four seasons before taking the job at Zachary.
“I was offered the Walker job the same day I was offered the Zachary job,” Cassard said. “I was young (26) and I wanted to be a head coach. I liked Warren Drake, who was the superintendent for the system. He had a huge vision for Zachary. He made it all happen and things fell in place pretty fast.
“When I first got to Zachary, there was not much facility wise,” Cassard said. “I knew they were going to let me build my program like I wanted. They had money. I believed in myself that I could build something. Zachary worked out great.”
Cecchini has enjoyed great success at Barbe using a playing style which features a lot of bunting and aggressive base-running. Cassard utilizes some of Cecchini’s offensive philosophy.
“I do somewhat of the same things (Cecchini) does,” Cassard said. “I am not all small ball. I spread it out a little more. On offense, I try to score one run an inning. That leads to bunting and stealing. Our team is going to play fast.”
For Cassard, just as important as playing style is the mental approach of the players. Developing this mindset is his first task at Live Oak.
“Year one is all about establishing a culture,” Cassard said. “I haven’t changed a thing since I first started at Zachary. We are going to have hard-nosed kids who want to compete. I want some blue-collar kids who want to get after it. We are going to be resilient. Teams will have to beat us to win the game.”
When the district schedule began, Live Oak was No. 5 among Class 5A teams in the power ratings. The Eagles had a 16-6 pre-district record and were 2-1 in District 4-5A play following a 17-7 victory over Denham Springs.
“We only had one pitcher with experience coming back,” Cassard said. “You look at that and you know you have a lot of question marks. We play really good defense and our hitters understand who they are. The pitchers are still growing.
“Of our seven losses, five are to teams with losing records. I didn’t expect that. When we have played against good teams, we have played very well. We have to get the players to think like champions. I absolutely think we are building something here at Live Oak.”