From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 18, 1998

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / May 18, 1998

Never Say Die Attitude Leads Comets To Title Game

Heading into the fifth inning of the Class 2A state championship game Wednesday night, St. Charles Catholic junior left fielder Wayne Stein toldthe team coming out of a team huddle to “Never say die.”That saying could have been used to describe the Comets’ 1998 season. Itwould have been easy to bury the Comets in the preseason. Going into theseason with a new coach and system and an inexperienced infield and pitching staff, many predicted the Comets would struggle. The team waspicked by many to place third in District 9-2A.

On April 2, that prophecy looked like it might come true. Having alreadylost to Riverside, the Comets trailed Ridgewood 6-0 in the third inning with the Eagles having the bases loaded with one out.

With the Comets’ title hopes hanging by a thread, Courtney Bonura got out of the inning without further damage. John Price picked up where Bonuraleft off and the Comets rallied for a 7-6 victory. St. Charles Catholicwould not lose again in district, capturing the title with a 9-1 record.

“Everyone contributed in some way in that game,” St. Charles Catholiccoach Frank Monica said. “The team grew up that night. From that night on,the team came together and started understanding what the work ethic was all about. We didn’t realize what kind of team we had and get focuseduntil the Ridgewood game.”Another turning point in the Comets’ season was their regional playoff game against Newman. With the score tied at one in the bottom of theseventh, the Greenies put runners at second and third with none out.

With the Comets 90 feet from elimination, Price got the first batter to bounce back to the mound, caught the runner on third on a failed suicide squeeze attempt and struck out the last batter to get out of the inning. St.Charles Catholic scored a run in the eighth for a 2-1 victory.

Form held true in St. Charles Catholic’s victories over Opelousas Catholicand Loyola as the Comets overcame early inning deficit to reach the state title game.

St. Charles Catholic followed the script in the championship game againstPope John Paul II, falling behind the Jaguars, 4-0, after the first two innings. A half inning later, after a three-run triple by Brandon Laiche anda grounder by Jon Clement, the Comets tied the game at four.

Pope John Paul bounced right back to take a 12-4 lead and had runners at second and third with one out in the fourth. One hit away from being injeopardy of being 10-run ruled heading into the fifth, Laiche retired the next two batters.

Then the comeback started. Walks by Price and Stein, a single by JasonGonzales and ground outs by Steven Faucheux and Brian Horvath cut the deficit to 12-7. Laiche and Clement kept the inning alive by drawingwalks. But the Jaguars showed why they were a deserving champion asrelief pitcher Jim Lamz retired the final eight batters to preserve the victory.

That the Comets were able to come so close to their dreams of a state championship is a tribute to their work ethic. Up onto the past few weeks,the players lifted weights three times a week.

“The kids realized they had so much invested in something,” Monica said.

“That is why you saw the enthusiasm and why they had so much appreciation for the little things they accomplished.”Monica was referring to the enthusiasm the Comets showed throughout the state tournament. When Matt Weber laid down a sacrifice bunt to set upPrice’s go-ahead two-run single in the second inning against Loyola, his teammates greeted him in the dugout like he had just nailed one over the fence.

“They enjoyed each other,” Monica said. “More importantly, when I wasshuffling in 12 or 13 players, they all understood their role. They didn’tcomplain. They knew their time would come.”As for the future, the Comets must replace four seniors – Gonzales, Ty Monica, Brian Horvath and Clement – who Monica said provided excellent leadership.

“Everyone of them contributed throughout the year,” Monica said. “All hadgood seasons. They certainly made us better. They will be succeeded but Idon’t know if they can be replaced.”The team does return a solid nucleus and a pitching staff led by Bonura, Price and Laiche.

“I would hope it would leave a burning desire in their hearts to get back,” Monica said of playing in the title game. “Once you get a taste of it, I feelit makes you hungrier. You want to get back to the dance again.”

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