Lions ready to make another playoff run

Kyle Riviere
Ascension Christian returns sophomore pitcher Josh Diez. Photo by Kyle Riviere.

The Ascension Christian Lions may be young, but they don't lack experience.

Last season, the Lions had their share of growing pains, but that didn't stop them from winning four more games than they did the year before and clinching a berth in the playoffs.

That trip to the postseason has only made them more hungry for success.

"We got a taste of it last year," Ascension Christian head coach Paul Burgard said. "We've set our goals high for this season. We expect to make it to the playoffs, and we expect to do well. We don't want to just have the one game and we're out."

In 2015, the Lions raced out to a hot start at 7-1. Once district season rolled around, they had built up an impressive 10-4 record and 4-2 mark in league play.

However, they hit a wall early in April--going just 1-5 in a six-game stretch. In all five losses, the Lions were shut out.

They finally ended the skid in their final game when they dismantled East Iberville, 16-0. It earned them a No. 22 seeding for the playoffs.

There, they hit the road to face No. 11 Ascension Episcopal. They took the Gators to the limit, but they eventually fell in a shootout, 13-10.

Almost everyone from that Lion playoff squad returns in 2016, and Coach Burgard said that he expects them to be extremely well-rounded.

"I think the strength of our team is our consistency in all three areas--pitching, hitting and defense. You can't really look at the lineup and point out a weakness," Burgard said. "We have nine sophomores that have been starting since they were in the eighth grade, so even though they're just sophomores, they have the experience of juniors."

Ascension Christian will return much of its firepower from behind the plate.

First-team all-district junior Peyton Bahlinger returns, along with Micah Freeman--a second-team all-district selection and the Lions' best power hitter.

Sophomores Josh Poirrier and Josh Diez will also be back as huge components to Ascension Christian's offense.

"We're going to have a good lineup. There won't be any easy outs," Burgard said.

The Lions also look to be solid from the mound.

"Our pitchers have looked really good in workouts. They won't give up a lot of base-on-balls, and we're going to play good defense behind them," Burgard said.

Diez, a second-team all-district player in 2015, will be back as Ascension Christian's ace. Pitcher Mason Braud is also a returning second-team all-district player that will compliment Diez.

The Lions' biggest competition in the district will once again be parish rival Ascension Catholic and St. John. It was just last year when the Bulldogs made a run to the state quarterfinals.

Coach Burgard said that his team's mindset is totally different heading into this season.

"We've gotten to the point where we're not hoping to win; we're expecting to win," Burgard said. "We're going to have more experience, and I think we'll be able to finish off games now when we have the lead. When we're down, I think we'll be able to fight back. They believe in themselves, and they're going to approach the season with a lot of confidence."