Pitching wins championships. How many times have you heard that tired old cliche?
But then again, cliches are so often true. And that one about pitching, yeah, that one that’s definitely rooted in realism.
Big offense will equal big wins, but It doesn’t matter how well you hit the ball, if you can’t prevent the other team from hitting it, you’re very unlikely to win the game that counts the most.
So why am I babbling on and on about a cliche that has been part of the fabric of baseball since the beginning?
Well, because a year ago, I wrote a column entitled “Pitching Wins Championships.” That article was all about the immediate future of pitching in Ascension Parish.
It discussed how many of the area’s top pitchers from 2017 were graduating, which was going to result in many parish pitching staffs being overhauled. Translation: The 2018 baseball season was going to be filled with many new faces on the mound.
So, a year later, just how did these new faces perform?
As it turns out, quite well.
Heading into the season, the team that returned the most depth to the pitching staff was Ascension Christian. The lions brought back virtually everyone—including first-team all-district junior hurler Nick Montalbano.
However, early in the season, Montalbano sustained a season-ending shoulder injury.
This gave way to Mason Braud stepping up and becoming the team’s ace. The staff as a whole struggled at times due to the lack of depth, but Braud carried himself well as a starter.
Another injury to an ace forced some reshuffling to a parish pitching staff.
St. Amant headed into 2018 having lost two-time District 5-5A MVP Blayne Enlow, along with all-district performer Colin Schutz.
Fortunately for the Gators, they had two Southeastern signees coming back in ace Dwain Guice and Zane Zeppuhar.
But like Montalbano, Guice sustained an arm injury early in the year. Although it wasn’t a season-ender, it still put him on the shelf until right before the playoffs.
With Guice out, Zeppuhar was looked upon to be the ace, and many younger and inexperienced Gator pitchers were forced to get baptized by fire.
The rotation struggled at the beginning, but it got better and better as the year moved forward.
Teddy Webb went from unknown to their most consistent starter. He helped spearhead a stretch of nine St. Amant wins in their final 10 regular-season games.
Webb also started their first-round upset victory over Destrehan.
Oh yeah, Guice returned and became a dangerous reliever. He also started game one of their second-round series victory over H.L. Bourgeois.
Ascension Catholic lost their top three starters from 2017. This included two All-State pitchers in Landon Clifton and D.J. Giroir.
That looked like something that would be near impossible to overcome, but their new-look pitching staff was dynamite in 2018.
Tre’ Medine and Charlie Gianelloni formed a superb one-two punch and went a combined 16-5 as starters.
First-baseman Rodney Blanchard stepped up as a solid No. 3 starter. How good was he in this role? He was the starting pitcher in their state title victory over St. John.
To top it all off, they got an All-State football player in Jai Williams that wasn’t even on the team last year, and they turned him into one of their best relievers.
Another parish team that had to nearly start from scratch with their pitching staff was East Ascension.
The Spartans lost a bevy of arms from last year. This included Noah Fontenot, Brandon Foncree, Joseph Stevens, Reese Hebert and Trent LeBlanc.
The only guy they brought back with significant experience was Blaise Foote. So, they relied heavily on him to set the tone for their rotation. Luckily for them, he did.
Foote pitched extremely well this season, but the biggest key was having another solid starter emerge. That’s where Chad Kennedy came in for the Spartans.
The senior was consistent all year and pitched some big games for East Ascension. Their solid mound performance helped the Spartans go 7-3 in district play.
One year ago, Jack Merrifield was know for his hitting. That’s until he started showing off what he could do on the mound for Gauthier & Amedee during the American Legion season.
Merrifield was great in his appearances, and it only set the stage for the terrific senior year he put up as Dutchtown’s ace.
In his first season as a starting pitcher, he was consistently great.
He didn’t always get the desired run support, so his win-loss record may not have been overly impressive, but Merrifield was the best Ascension pitcher I saw this season, start to finish.
The way these guys stepped up this year, it only shows how much the parish is stacked with talent. When one arm leaves, coaches are able to just plug in another.