Local pitchers lead off for Southeastern Lions college stars

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 20, 2002


HAMMOND – Staff and seniors on the Southeastern Louisiana University Lions welcomed Hahnville star and Luling native, Craig Gonzales to the team almost four years ago. This season, Gonzales is filling the shoes of those he once looked up to and passing the lessons he has learned along to freshmen Paul Labiche and Risley St. Germain.

Although the trio stems from three distinct reaches of the River Parishes, Labiche lived in LaPlace and attended Reserve Christian High School, St. Germain is a Lutcher High School graduate from Lutcher, they share the common thread of not only playing for the Lions, but all three are pitchers for Southeastern.

“I’ve enjoyed every day here,” said Gonzales. “I can’t complain about my choice to join the Lions and no doubt I’ve made a lot of new friends.”

He said since he joined, the Southeastern coaches and staff have all made him feel “so comfortable,” which is the mood he has successfully helped pass on to the future of the Lions pitchers.

“I’ve received a lot of support from the seniors and all of the players on the team,” replied St. Germain. “We all back each other up 100 percent.”

Labiche agreed about the solid support on the Lions’ squad and how it has helped him adjust to the college life of scheduling classes and working around the busy baseball schedule.

“It’s been tough, but I’ve also had a lot of help from my family, friends and most importantly, Jesus Christ,” Labiche explained. “He guides me in everyday life and helps me adjust and work hard.”

All three pitchers unanimously agree hard work is a necessity for taking to the mound at a division one college. Their combined opinion described pitching in high school, where roughly one-third of the lineup is skilled at swinging the bat, compared to college baseball, where all nine batters can send the ball out of the park with the flick of a wrist.

“Coming from high school, you learn you lesson quick that in these lineups, every one of the batters, one through nine, can hit it out of the park,” said Gonzales. “No matter what anyone says, it’s a tough game. But in my first year, the guys on the team gave me the confidence to challenge guys at the plate.”

“In college, you face the best of the high school hitters and all these guys are bigger and stronger than in high school,” commented Labiche.

But while the opposition at home plate has grown both in size and skill, all three pitchers have had to find a way to fulfill their position of defending the team from the mound.

“The guys one through nine can hit, but then again you wouldn’t be pitching college ball if you couldn’t stop them,” replied St. Germain. “It’s not that I have a cocky attitude, but the odds are in my favor.”

However anyone views the freshman’s attitude, he claims he has found the needed confidence from playing tough competition during the summer and believing advice from coaches, who tell him when pitchers go out on the mound lacking confidence, that’s when batters get hits past them. St. Germain said with this advice and experience he is not afraid to step up and challenge batters.

“I pitch to my strengths, not to their weaknesses,” he continued. For instance, he described a situation where he would be ahead in the count and take the gamble of surprising a batter, who usually connects with inside pitches, by throwing a cut-fastball inside. He said he enjoys keeping the batter surprised, if not worried at the plate. He said what cuts down on his worries is knowing there are eight other players on his side playing defense.

Labiche’s pitching plan, to battle batters with his three or four off-speed pitches, such as curves, across the entire strike zone.

Also, he said he’s been taught to “go out there, work hard and give it your best. If you hesitate and let up, that’s when bad things happen.”

A couple bad things happened in a recent game when Labiche was “a little bit rusty,” largely because of having to split playing time with the other Lions pitchers. He said he entered the game and gave up only two hits, but a number of walks, which ultimately cut his time on the field short.

No matter how many innings Labiche stays on the field, he said he is still adjusting and tries to learn something new every time he lets go of a pitch.

“I like having the pitcher’s life,” he commented.

“On the mound it’s a totally different thing than being in the bullpen. You can throw 70 pitches and not be as sore as if you throw 20 from the mound. I guess it’s because your adrenaline is pumping trying to get the batter out.”

As part of his regiment, not only to keep his muscles in shape, but from being sore, he said he voluntarily runs a few miles to get some of the acid out of his arms.

Still, he urges the most important segment of his life and training is attending church, or finding some time to pray.

Providing inspiration for St. Germain is his grandfather Curtis Caldarera.

“My grandfather always motivates me to do better, even after a good game,” said St. Germain.

“When I’m down or up, he’s there for me.”

So far, he claims his greatest moment as a Lion was pitching a shut out versus the University of New Orleans to wrap up starting his first college game. St. Germain said he may have given up 11 hits, but leaving UNO scoreless was outstanding.

For Gonzales, throughout his four years on the team, he still considers the first game he started as a freshman, a conference tournament matchup, his most memorable occasion on the field. Added to his first college start, Gonzales said pitching to Ben Sheets made the game much more spectacular.

Sheets later graduated from what is now the University of Louisiana at Monroe and plays baseball for the Milwaukee Brewers.

After graduation, expected this December, Gonzales said he is looking forward to a high school coaching position at almost any school, although one in this area would be ideal.

Otherwise, he may chose to pursue a graduate degree in education.

Meanwhile, St. Germain and Labiche plan to continue “learning a lot more about the game, responsibility,” and working hard to live a pitcher’s life.