The 2018 team was on a mission. They knew they were going back to Sulphur, and they knew they weren't leaving empty handed this time around.
Last season, Ascension Catholic reached the state semifinals and raced out to a 4-0 lead over top-seeded Central Catholic.
However, the Eagles stormed back to tie the game. From there, the contest went to an eleventh inning, where Central Catholic was finally able to pull out the victory.
It was a heartbreaking defeat for Ascension Catholic, and they immediately vowed to make it back to Sulphur to complete what they started.
It made it easy to come up with a team motto in 2018. It was simply “Unfinished Business.”
The Bulldogs had to go all offseason with the terrible memory of coming up short festering away at their psyche. But in the end, it worked to their advantage.
The 2018 team was on a mission. They knew they were going back to Sulphur, and they knew they weren’t leaving empty handed this time around.
It looked like a tall task, considering that the Bulldogs headed into this season without LSU-Eunice signee Landon Clifton, an All-State pitcher that had served as the team’s ace for the past few seasons.
Along with Clifton, No. 2 hurler D.J. Giroir was gone, as well as Parish MVP Nick Bellina—another LSU-Eunice signee that was their best hitter and another valuable arm in their rotation.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they had players that were ready to step up and lead their team to a championship.
Clifton and Giroir quickly became afterthoughts as senior Charlie Gianelloni and junior Tre’ Medine formed a one-two punch on the mound that was comparable to any other in Class 1A.
Junior Rodney Blanchard—who was known strictly for his infield play the previous year—showed that his arm was special as well. Blanchard became the team’s No. 3 pitcher, and his play only got better with each start.
But it wasn’t always easy for Ascension Catholic.
There was a stretch midway though the season that made the Bulldogs look very ordinary. At one point, they lost six of seven games, causing their record to plummet to just 6-8.
Two of those losses came to St. John by a combined score of 17-8. It pretty much guaranteed they would not be winning District 6-1A for a second straight season.
It would have been easy for the Bulldogs to wallow around in self-pity or to succumb to self-doubt. It would have been easy for them to say, “Well, maybe next year.”
They refused to go that route. They never looked past those two words: unfinished business.
Ascension Catholic picked themselves up off of the mat and got back down to basics. When they did, everything just clicked.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season on a 17-game winning streak. This included victories over 2017 Division-IV state runner-up Central Catholic, Division-III champion Riverside and eventual Class 3A state champion Berwick.
They didn’t cool off in the playoffs. They won five of the six postseason games they played.
"The only game we lost since that losing streak was the second game of a two-out-of-three playoff series with St. Mary’s,” Bulldog head coach Todd Landry said. “What a tremendous job. That is incredibly hard to do--winning 22-23 of your last 24 games. That's a tribute to a great, great group of kids."
What made it even sweeter was winning the state championship against district rival St. John, the team that had become the Alabama to Ascension Catholic’s LSU.
The Eagles had won four straight games against the Bulldogs by a combined score of 35-12. They won the district title two years in a row, while Ascension Catholic settled for third place in 2017 and second this year.
The Bulldogs were not intimidated in Sulphur. They were due.
Even when St. John jumped on top of them 2-0 in the first inning, they never wilted. Even when they were held to just one hit in the first five innings, they never broke.
The Bulldogs simply kept chipping away.
When they needed big hits, Gianelloni, Medine, Blanchard and Mason Zeringue provided them. When they needed big plays from the field, Brock Acosta almost ran through the left-field wall saving an extra-base hit.
When they needed pitching, Blanchard and Gianelloni closed the door on the dangerous Eagle lineup.
And now, the Bulldogs’ business is finished.
They are no longer basking in moral victories. They are no longer runner-ups. They’re champions.