Natchitoches Central is in the state high school baseball playoffs, no small accomplishment for a program that has scant postseason history.
Tonight, the Chiefs can make a huge impact on this year’s Class 5A field, along with earning themselves a permanent place in the school’s athletic lore, by notching a monumental victory.
After nabbing the 31st seed in a 32-team playoff draw on Sunday, NCHS goes against perennial powerhouse West Monroe, the No. 2-ranked team. The Chiefs and Rebels collide tonight at 6 at WMHS in a one-game, win-or-weep matchup.
The victor advances to the regional round, when foes contest best-of-three series instead of just a do-or-die single game.
And if you haven’t heard the phrase “on any given day …” or “why not us?” applied in sports, just consult any of the Chiefs coaches, players or family members.
“Anybody can win one game,” said head coach Regan Kaufman. “We have our chance. We’ve swung it well the last two weeks. We’re playing our best baseball. We feel comfortable knowing we’re going to be in the game.”
Besides, there IS a little history to draw upon. Four years ago, when Kaufman was an assistant coach and these NCHS seniors were freshmen, they contributed to a 6-2 win over West Monroe, albeit in a regular-season district matchup after earlier getting pummeled at home.
The Chiefs are 14-20, but have been so close to much better. They have suffered 11 one-run losses. Their best wins have come recently, over Airline and 18th-seeded Parkway, with the latter one propelling them into the playoff field.
Senior pitchers Matt Dunn and Jesse Taitano Jr. give NCHS a chance in any game. Top offensive threats are senior catcher Connor Stokes and junior infielder Alex Dupuy, both hitting around .400.
It’s definitely been a growing experience for the Chiefs, who have made one of the few playoff appearances ever for the program.
“I thank the seniors for all they’ve done, and the boys who have competed every game, every day in and day out,” said Kaufman. “I’m proud of them.”
Kaufman, the former St. Mary’s All-Stater and NSU standout, is in his first full season as head coach, having a brief 2020 campaign curtailed by COVID. Assistants Matt Danna, Xavier Braxton and Mark Dawson have been integral to the progress already made by the Chiefs in 2021.
While probably everybody outside of Natchitoches Parish has already penciled in West Monroe winning tonight, Kaufman can’t help but visualize a different storyline.
“If we beat West Monroe, we can actually host a playoff series if Sulphur wins,” he said. “That would be huge for us.”