Valero-St. Charles, Otto Candies ready for tourney

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 10, 2009


The River Parishes are well represented at the American Legion Southwest Regional that begins today in Baton Rouge, two local squads enter in hopes of doing some damage.

Valero-St. Charles (16-5) will open against Holy Cross-based Ponstein’s at 12:30 p.m. Otto Candies (6-12), meanwhile, is slated to face Gerry Lane Hummer, a team consisting of players from various schools in the Baton Rouge area. First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

The Valero/Ponstein’s matchup offers what promises to be a fantastic pitching duel between Valero ace Kurt McCune (6-1) and Ponstein’s hurler Joe Broussard, an LSU signee.

But what gives Valero coach Marty Luquet more reason to believe his team can make an impact at the tourney is its relative pitching depth compared to past seasons.

“We feel like it gives us a chance in this thing,” said Luquet. “Our No. 1 is as good as anyone’s in McCune. But when you’re playing nine-inning games like these are, it taxes your staff.”

The fact that to win the tournament, teams will have to play for nine-innings, day after day, is why Luquet believes that it’s not just the simple act of winning that’s important. 

It’s also how you win.

“You have to play some games where you win by 10,” said Luquet. “Simply to take some innings off your staff. To go nine innings every day, that’s 45 innings of baseball that your pitchers have to take on.”

Otto Candies coach Kade Rogers agrees.

“Nine innings is a whole different thing for a high school kid,” he said. “Two innings can feel like six to them.

“It’s crazy to think about what you have to go through to win this thing. You need a deep, deep staff. You love to watch your guys go out and compete, but how long do you want to throw them, especially if they start getting tagged?”

The pressure doubles with a loss.

“You have to stay in the winner’s bracket. The pressure becomes too great once your back is against the wall,” said Luquet.

Valero certainly is on a roll. After dropping its first district game this summer, it won nine straight to capture the top seed entering the Second District West playoffs. Wins over St. Charles-based Townsend Homes and Otto Candies to advance to the regional pushed the streak to 11.

Otto Candies, meanwhile, has ample experience in regional play, but this season may have brought one of its most unlikely berths.

It entered the Second District West playoffs as the fourth seed of the four qualifying teams. But, just as it had the previous three summers, it defeated Bell Office Machines, lost to Valero, and topped Townsend Homes in an elimination game.

A team chock full of youth will be representing Otto Candies in the next few days, but the team that emerged from the district playoffs seems improved from the one that began the summer in up-and-down fashion.

“Our younger guys are really buying in, and that’s making our older ones more focused,” said Rogers. “They don’t want their spot to be taken. We’re putting the pieces together the right way. It’ll be good to be in this tournament atmosphere.”

Rogers’ staff is led by Britten Lanaux and Adam Dufrene – “They throw strikes, so we know we can count on them,” says Rogers – but the majority of the Otto Candies staff is stocked with players trying to prove themselves.

But Rogers says it won’t stop his team from competing.

“Baseball’s a funny game. A guy that throws 70 can pitch a no hitter, and the guy that throws 88 can get hit all over the park,” Rogers says. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can’t break glass with a pebble. But they get the job done.”

Nothing will come easy to either team in regards to travel. For each of the last two seasons, each has played its regional games at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium in New Orleans. An extended stay in Baton Rouge, obviously, brings a different variable.

“We were comfortable with (the Southeast Regional), having played there a few times,” said Luquet. “This makes it harder. But this is why we go on the road a lot early in the (prep) season. It’s what we prepare for.”

Rogers wasn’t nuts about the travel – by Legion rule, the Second District teams must switch from the Southeast Regional to the Southwest once every three seasons.

“It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, you want to get the Baton Rouge teams interested and involved,” he says.

“On the other, you’re not catering to the teams that have stuck with Legion play for years.”

And win or lose, players on each team can still gain by putting their best foot forward in the coming days.

“This is where the college scouts are,” says Luquet. “If you want to play at the next level, then this is the place to play your best.”