Flipping the switch
Behind timely hitting and a steady performance by Austin Tanner on the mound, St. Amant once again proved why seedings are meaningless.
The No. 18 Gators used a three-run first inning to overpower second-seeded Destrehan 6-2 and punch their ticket to the State Baseball Tournament at Tulane.
St. Amant has had exceptional hitting all season but now with the emergence of Tanner--who has pitched two complete games in the playoffs--they have flipped the switch and become a very dangerous team.
"He's just a bulldog. He wanted the baseball; we gave it to him," Gator head coach Troy Templet said. "He had six days rest. He just came out firing and hit his spots. He made key pitches at key times, and we played good defense behind him. We have confidence when he's on the mound; there's no doubt about that."
Tanner set the tone early for St. Amant as he rung up two strikeouts in the first inning to force Destrehan to go three up and three down.
The Gator bats quickly fed off of the momentum as lead-off hitter Madison Nickens nailed a double against the leftfield wall.
Matthew Delaune then got on after a Wildcat error--setting up an RBI-double off of the centerfield wall by Jacob Morales.
They kept the hits coming as Brennan Grant followed with an RBI-single in the gap between third and short and to end the inning, Cole Benoit hit himself a sac fly that brought Morales home,
The first-inning assault quickly put Destrehan in a 3-0 hole.
"There's no doubt that that first inning--when we got four hits and the three runs--really settled us down and gave us some momentum," Templet said.
The Wildcats got on the board in the second. Sam Steib got on with a walk, and Tanner Hayes got Destrehan's first hit of the game. After a sac grounder by Blake Hymel, they trimmed the lead down to 3-1.
However, the Gators quickly had an answer at the bottom of the inning as Blaine Shexnayder led off with a single into leftfield.
Ryan Cardinale then came up and also belted out a single into left but after a fielding error, Cardinale got all the way to third, and Shexnayder came home for the score.
Kirk Elisar then brought Cardinale home with an RBI-single to give St. Amant a commanding 5-1 lead heading into the third.
From there, the St. Amant bats cooled off considerably, but Tanner continued to shine from the mound.
And in the sixth, the Gator defense made a huge play to squash a possible Wildcat run.
Hayes collected his third hit of the game. As the grounder made its way into left, Steib raced past third base. That's when Morales scooped up the grounded and fired a rocket to Delaune--who tagged out Steib at home.
The play not only prevented a Wildcat run, but it gave St. Amant momentum going into the bottom of the inning.
After loading the bases, Nickens came through with sac fly that brought home Shexnayder to extend the St. Amant lead to 6-1 heading into the final inning.
Destrehan made the packed house at St. Amant nervous early on as Hymel led off with a homer to cut the lead to 6-2.
However, Tanner settled down and ended the game just as strongly as he had started it. He struck out the Wildcats' final two batters to seal the Gator win and put them through to the state quarterfinals.
Tanner ended up pitching a complete game--striking out five and only giving up the two runs on six hits.
Hayes had three of those hits for Destrehan as he went a perfect 3-3.
As for St. Amant, Shexnayder went 2-2, and Elisar went 2-3 with an RBI.
The win upped the Gators' overall record to 26-9. It's their eighth straight victory. To Coach Templet, it's not very complicated as to why his team is on such a hot-streak.
"We just chose to play our best ball at the right time," Templet said. "We had that tough loss to Catholic. We played well; we just couldn't get the win. But after that, we basically just grew up. We started playing with a lot of confidence, and a lot of people stepped up their games."
The Gators will have to continue to step up their game now as they make the trip to Tulane for the state quarterfinals where they'll play No. 10 Zachary on Friday.
Zachary is fresh off of a 7-4 upset win over No. 7 Hahnville in regionals. They went 23-11 during the regular season. That included a 14-7 win over St. Amant back in March.