St. Mary’s playoff push halted in dramatic three-game series

Kevin’s Gallery

A tremendous St. Mary’s baseball season ended Friday night when visiting Catholic-Pointe Coupee held off the Tigers’ threats in three straight innings, and pushed across the decisive runs in their final chance.

Catholic-Pointe Coupee had won the opening contest in the best-of-three LHSAA Division IV quarterfinal series 6-4 on Thursday night, putting SMHS with its backs against the wall Friday afternoon. The Tigers came through with a 5-3 triumph in the second game of the series, forcing a winner-take-all third contest Friday night at Cracker Brown Field.

The teams battled toe-to-toe into the final inning, when CPC got a go-ahead triple followed by an RBI single and broke a 2-all tie. For the first time in four innings, the Tigers couldn’t get something going in the bottom of the seventh and took a heartbreaking 4-2 loss.

“Those were three really good games in a very evenly-matched series,” said St. Mary’s coach Brooks McMinn. “It was a good, intense series and our boys fought extremely hard, but we didn’t get the final result we wanted.”

An overflow crowd watched the action, with a flock of St. Mary’s students and alumni watching above the left field fence and in the right field corner along with a packed grandstand.

“It was really, really cool to see the turnout. It was amazing having that many people at the game being so supportive of our team,” he said. “I know that’s something our seniors will always treasure, and it will be great motivation for our returning players.”

St. Mary’s (29-8), the fourth seed in the playoff bracket, got three hits in the second-game win from freshman third baseman Nathan Slaughter and two by freshman outfielder Ethan Busby.

Senior Noah Heard put the Tigers up 1-0 with a sacrifice fly in the third inning. Freshman Payne Williams pitched 5 1/3 innings of shutout baseball, but the visitors rallied and chased him from the mound in the bottom of the fifth as they pushed across a pair of runs to get on top.

SMHS (designated as the visiting team in the second game) roared back with the go-ahead runs in the top of the sixth, bounding back ahead 4-2. Slaughter singled and scored on a base hit by fellow freshman Ben Bienvenu. Busby doubled in Bienvenu to provide the lead run, then scored on Heard’s RBI groundout.

After the visitors tallied in their half to close the Tigers’ lead to 4-3, Slaughter doubled to open the seventh and Drake Griffin, the freshman catcher, drove him in with a hit to provide an insurance run.

In the decisive game, Catholic-Pointe Coupee started fast with two in the first. The Tigers halved the deficit in the third when Williams singled and scored on a passed ball.

SMHS tied it at 2 in the fourth inning when Slaughter led off with a base hit and scored on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch drawn by Williams. However, starting a painful trend, the Tigers left the bases loaded.

In the bottom of the fifth and bottom of the sixth, St. Mary’s left runners on first and second each time. The No. 5-seeded visitors made those missed opportunities costly in the top of the seventh as it surged ahead 4-2, and retired the Tigers in order in the bottom half to move on to the state semifinals and a matchup with No. 1 Ouachita Christian in Sulphur.

“We just could not get the big hit in the third game in three straight innings with the score tied,” said McMinn. “That’s baseball. The odds are against the batter. These boys had a fantastic season and battled down to the final pitch.”

Photos: Shannahan Photography