Eagles prepare for Country Day Cajuns

All year, members of the Central Catholic baseball squad have asked members of the coaching staff that have advanced to the Class 1A state semifinals before, either as a player or a coach, what it is like to be on such a big stage.

Now, instead of asking questions, the squad will get to make its own assessment of the experience as they hit the field Friday at 10 a.m. against No. 11 seed Metairie Park Country Day (20-10) in the Class 1A semifinals at Louisiana Tech’s Pat Patterson Park in Ruston.

The Eagles (19-10), the No. 10 seed, are making their first semifinal appearance since the 2005 season when they won their last state championship.

CCHS coach Tyler Jensen was a senior on that squad, while CCHS assistant coach Jamarr Garret was a junior. Fellow CCHS assistant Dan Irwin was still an assistant in 2005, while assistant Larry Lombardo made the trip in 2009 with Hanson Memorial as an assistant coach.

“I remember as a player, you feel proud,” Jensen said. “We’ve reached one of our goals (semifinals), but we haven’t reached our ultimate goal, yet. It’s (preparations) hectic, for sure. (There’s) a lot of things you have to take care of. It’s well worth it (though).”

Now that his team will make its first trip in his first season as head coach, Jensen said he has stressed to his squad how fast-paced everything is.

“Everything is on a strict time schedule,” Jensen said Wednesday. “It takes a lot of poise. It takes a lot of maturity. The thing I told them today is make sure you enjoy it because you never know if you’re going to get to this position again as a player (or) whatever. Not everybody gets this opportunity that they’re getting.”

While CCHS enters the matchup having won nine of its last 11 games, the team across the diamond they will be facing on Friday is even hotter.

Country Day has won 12 of their last 13 games and 18 of their last 21. They began the season at 2-7.

Country Day coach Sam Dozier said that his squad, which competes in District 10-1A, gained confidence towards the end of the season as they have rallied to win a few games late against “decent” competition.

The team, which entered Monday’s quarterfinal matchup with Opelousas Catholic with a .370 batting average, has won close contests in the playoffs. In the first round, they defeated No. 22 Catholic-Pointe Coupee, 3-2, followed by an upset win by the same score against No. 6 Sacred Heart.

On Monday, they defeated Opelousas Catholic, 3-1.

Jensen, who attended the Cajuns’ quarterfinal game, said that Country Day has average pitching, they swing the bat well and they don’t hurt themselves with costly mistakes.

“You’re going to have to beat them,” he said. “They’re not going to beat themselves.”

Dozier, who attended the Eagles’ quarterfinal matchup with No. 2 seed Vermilion Catholic, said he saw a solid and confident team in CCHS.

He said his squad would have to play nearly error free to have a chance.

One advantage CCHS may have entering the semifinals is that they played in the Small Schools Tournament earlier this season in Alexandria at Bringhurst Park, home of the Alexandria Aces, who competes in a collegiate wood bat league. For years, the above-average stadium was home to Class 1A’s state title game.

The tournament trip earlier in the year, meant as preparation for a possible playoff atmosphere like this, leaves Jensen with no worries about his squad taking this trip.

“They handled it like grown men,” Jensen said. “I have absolutely no worries about them misbehaving. This is a good group of guys.”

Both teams had not selected their starting pitchers as of Wednesday afternoon. Still, Jensen said he expected a close game on Friday.

“I expect this to be very close coming down to the end,” he said. “(This is) playoff baseball. This is the semifinals. Teams that are here deserve to be here. Nothing’s a cakewalk. We have to play our best baseball. If not, we got a sad bus ride home.”

The winner of Friday’s 10 a.m. matchup will meet the winner of No. 1 Ouachita Christian and No. 5 Mangham on Saturday at 1 p.m. for the state final. Mangham and Ouachita Christian will play in the other semifinal matchup at 1 p.m.

CCHS’ game will be broadcast on KBZE 105.9 with pregame beginning at 9:45 a.m.

If the Eagles advance to the championship, KBZE will again broadcast Saturday’s action beginning at 12:45 p.m.

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