Parish rivals Ascension Catholic and Ascension Christian have reversed roles.

Parish rivals Ascension Catholic and Ascension Christian have reversed roles.

In 2017, the Bulldogs came into the season as the proven team and prohibitive favorite to win District 6-1A as they returned the majority of their roster from a squad that reached the state quarterfinals.

Conversely, the Lions came in young and hungry, looking to surprise some folks.

Oh, how things can change in the course of a year.

After finishing as runner-up in the district and reaching the quarterfinals in head coach Conrad Gayle’s first year, Ascension Christian now heads into 2018 as a proven team. They head in with high expectations as they bring back almost their entire starting lineup.

“I’m very excited to have seven of nine starters back from a 20-win team a year ago that included a second-place finish in district and the first ever playoff win in school history,” Gayle said.

Meanwhile, for the first time in years, Ascension Catholic will head into the season with a little uncertainty. After reaching at least the quarterfinals for four straight years, they will lose four of their best hitters and almost their entire pitching staff.

The 2017 season was a magical one for the Bulldogs.

They won more than 20 games and reached the state semifinal game in Sulphur. There, they played an epic 11-inning thriller with top-seeded Central Catholic that ended with the Bulldogs coming up just short.

The driving force behind Ascension Catholic’s great success over the last few years has been their dominance on the mound. LSU-Eunice signee Landon Clifton and D.J. Giroir have been a terrific one-two punch that has mowed through many lineups.

Clifton was an All-State player that was the district MVP two years ago. Giroir was a first-team all-district player in his own right.

In addition to those two stars, LSU-Eunice signee Nick Bellina also proved to be a reliable third option on the mound.

Though, Bellina’s loss will be felt the most at the plate. He hit a blistering .420 last season with 39 RBIs. He was All-State and the Parish MVP.

Clifton and Giroir were also great hitters, along with first-team all-district performer Ross Ponville.

Though Ascension Catholic loses a lot in the way of pitching, they still bring back some key performers from the field that have been consistent hitters for them.

Most notably, junior outfielder Mason Zeringue returns as an All-State performer.

He is joined by returning all-district players in William Dunn, Charlie Gianelloni and Rodney Blanchard.

Ascension Christian surprised many last year when they beat the Bulldogs for the first time in two years and finished ahead of them in the district.

Coach Gayle said that they “took the next step” as a program. Now, the Lions want to make a run at winning the district and reaching Sulphur.

They will lose Peyton Bahlinger, who’s been one of the most valuable players in their program over the last few years.

In earning all-district and All-Parish last season, he hit .345 with 19 RBIs.

But fortunately for Ascension Christian, almost everyone else returns.

This includes what was a tremendous pitching staff in 2017. They had a team ERA of just 2.81.

Leading the charge will be junior Nic Montalbano, who emerged as the team’s ace last season. He went 8-3 with a 1.96 ERA.

He will be joined by Josh Diez, Mason Braud, Josh Poirrier and Sal Montalbano.

“Josh Diez and Mason Braud will be top arms this year. They will also be counted upon to pitch against some very talented teams. Both had tremendous summers on the mound,” Gayle said.

Gayle is very excited for the return of Poirrier.

He was a returning all-district player for the Lions last year, but his season ended after injuring his shoulder in the third game of the year.

“He was hurt at the beginning of last year, only playing three games. He’s a left arm that could be a big wild card for us,” Gayle said. “I’m very excited to get him back on the mound and with the pitching staff. I’m anxious to get him back in the lineup.”

The Lions will also bring back all-district players in Tyler Cambre, Landon Ortego and K’von Delone.