Lion baseball seeks long playoff run

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Ascension Christian will return first-team all-district pitcher Josh Diez. Photo by Kyle Riviere.

Last season, Ascension Christian took a big step forward in the evolution of their baseball program as they won 17 games and hosted a first-round playoff game.

This year, just hosting a postseason matchup won’t be good enough for them. They want to win.

For the past couple of years, the Lions have had their roster filled top to bottom with talented young stars that had to learn how to win on the fly.

They learned quickly. Now, they’ve matured into seasoned veterans that are hoping that their widespread experience will lead to a district title and deep playoff run.

Though many familiar faces return to the lineup, there will be a new face from the dugout.

This season, Ascension Christian will be led by former Dutchtown assistant and current Gauthier & Amedee Wombat head coach Conrad Gayle.

Gayle has been part of some very successful teams at Dutchtown. In his five years there, the Griffins won three district titles.

As the skipper of the Wombats, the organization has made the state semifinals two years in a row.

Gayle takes over for longtime Ascension Christian head coach Paul Burgard—who recently parted ways with the school.

In his first year as a high-school head coach, Gayle will have an abundance of talent at his disposal. Altogether, the Lions will return seven all-district players from last season.

In earning those honors, Ascension Christian went 17-7 during the 2016 regular season. This awarded them the No. 15 overall seed in the postseason.

The Lions were upset by No. 18 St. Edmund, 5-4, in their first-round matchup.

Coach Gayle feels that Ascension Christian’s pitching staff will be key in getting over the hump in 2017.

They return first-team all-district hurler Josh Diez, along with the viable arms of Nic Montalbano (second-team all-district pitcher), Peyton Bahlinger (first-team all-district utility player) and Josh Poirrier (second-team all-district infielder).

“We have strong starters at the top but also a deep ‘pen that can help throughout the season,”Gayle said. “I feel very confident handing the ball over to a number of guys who have pitched varsity innings already. We have great leadership on the mound.”

The Lions’ lineup will also feature tremendous versatility.

In addition to being great from the mound, Diez, Poirrier and Bahlinger will also be some of Ascension Christian’s top weapons from the plate.

Other dangerous returning hitters for the Lions will be Brennan Tramonte and Jacob Antie.

All-district players K’von Delone and Mason Braud will return to boost the Ascension Christian defense, along with Landon Ortego, Sal Montalbano and Rickey Martinez.

Coach Gayle said that he thinks this wealth of experience will be instrumental in 2017.

“The veteran leadership throughout the team will be our strength,” Gayle said. “We have a number of guys that have played varsity for a number of years now and know expectations and what it takes to reach goals. They are not only excited but very focused and motivated for the upcoming season.”

One of the Lions’ top goals will be to win District 6-1A, but they’ll have to go through parish foe and reigning champion Ascension Catholic first. The Bulldogs have reached the state quarterfinals three years in a row.

Back when Gayle was first hired, he made it clear that they aren’t intimidated. They’re ready to compete for the crown.

“Ascension Catholic and St. John are the established programs in our district. They’ve been great for years. They’re the top dogs. We want to compete with them,” Gayle said. “It was the same thing when I was at Dutchtown. We had to compete against Catholic, St. Amant and EA each year. But we’re going to give them hell, and we’re going to get after it. They had a taste last year when they hosted a playoff game. Now they’re hungry for more.”