Riverside, SCC eye Friday semifinal battle

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, May 11, 2016

SULPHUR — St. John the Baptist Parish folks should be pretty familiar with the little town of Sulphur by now.

Since 2001 when the city began hosting the annual softball State Tournament, more than a few families and friends have followed the Riverside Academy and St. Charles Catholic softball teams. Some have left happy and some have left sad.

Now that Sulphur hosts the State Baseball Tournament as well, the long stretch of I-10 will be full of Rebels and Comets baseball fans. Some will leave happy and some will leave sad.

For first time in history, Riverside Academy and St. Charles Catholic will meet in the Class 2A baseball semifinals at 1 p.m. Friday at McMurry Park in Sulphur. The winner between the No. 5 Rebels and the No. 2 Comets advances to the championship game to be played at 3 p.m. Saturday.

It’s a long way to go for two teams separated by less than six miles of highway but with a long history and a storied rivalry. This will be the fourth meeting of these teams this season, in part because they competed in the same district for the first time since 2011.

St. Charles won the first meeting, a tournament game at Lutcher, 3-0. Riverside won the first district meeting 7-6, marking the first win for the Rebels against he Comets in 15 tries. St. Charles won the second game 1-0.

Since both lost a game to Newman and finished with identical 6-2 district records, the two shared the district title.

“It saved me some phone calls,” St. Charles coach Wayne Stein said. “I didn’t have to get a scouting report.”

As if there weren’t enough fuel on the fire, the two schools’ football teams also met in the Class 2A semifinals (Riverside won), the soccer and softball teams also split a pair of games this year.

“Maybe we could call the LHSAA and ask them if we can just play it here and make a little more money,” Stein joked after his team’s dramatic victory over Holy Savior Menard on Saturday.

He was only kidding. Getting to the State Tournament has been the goal of this team since 2009 when the Comets went to the Class 3A tournament in New Iberia and lost to Parkview Baptist, 4-3, in the finals.

“It’s where we belong,” Stein said. “We haven’t been there in quite some time. There was a time when we went every year and kind of got complacent, like, we were just going to show up. This was a big goal.”

Riverside Academy’s last trip to State was in 2014 when the Rebels, under then-coach Matt White, lost to Kinder 8-5 in the semifinals at Sulphur.

Current coach Frank Cazeaux was sitting in the stands that day as a spectator, not knowing he would be the next Rebels coach. His team punched its ticket with a 2-1 victory over Ouachita Christian Saturday in Monroe.

“I’m very, very happy for the kids and for the entire Riverside community,” Cazeaux said. “We had a great, great crowd up there in Monroe. It was like a football game. They were just behind us full-force.”

There certainly will be no secrets between the two as far as scouting reports. The Comets should know to expect Mason Vicknair, the ace who toppled them once this season. The junior right-hander pitched a complete game April 5, allowing six hits, walking three and striking out 18.

The Rebels should expect to see senior Zach Roussel, who has been the most consistent starter, but shouldn’t be surprised to see Brennan Gilberti, the sophomore who has come on strong this month. He got the Comets’ win on April 7, holding Riverside to three hits and striking out six.

Both have threats throughout the lineup. Jordan Loving was the hero of the Rebels’ win Saturday, hitting a 2-run walkoff home run. Vicknair homered Friday and drove in three runs in addition to pitching a 1-hitter.

St. Charles sophomore Lloyd Nash came up big in Saturday’s win, knocking two hits and driving in the go-ahead run.

While portions of St. John Parish might be rooting against one another Friday, Stein and Cazeaux have offered each other their well wishes.

“We congratulated one another,” Stein said. “It’s a rivalry. I’ve always said I like it. It says a lot about our parish, it says a lot about our district. I’m proud that we’re one of four teams and two of them are from our district. It ought to be a heck of a contest.”