By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other guy. Sometimes he’s just too good and there’s really nothing that could be done to overcome it.
The cap-tipping was about all Airline was left with after Tuesday’s Class 5A baseball first-round playoff contest was done at the Vikings’ field. Destrehan senior left-hander Noah Simon simply owned the game, which resulted in a 4-0 win by the Wildcats.
“He doesn’t hope to throw the ball somewhere,” said Airline coach Toby Todd of Simon’s performance. “He throws it where he wants to.”
Simon had total command of the game from the mound. He pitched like he was in a hurry to make a dinner reservation. The game was played at the pace he wanted and the Vikings couldn’t do anything about it. Simon threw only 76 pitches in the first six innings.
Airline didn’t get a base runner to second base until the seventh inning – two of Airline’s three reached on errors – and Simon retired 12 straight at one point. The 12th came as the second out of the seventh inning when he flew off the mound to pounce on a ball 40 feet away and fired a strike to first base for the out.
“That was pretty amazing,” Todd said.
It might have been the hardest ball Simon threw all day since his fastball was regularly clocked in the 81-82 mph range. But the Vikings just could seem to get a handle on it.
“I didn’t think his breaking ball was great, but it didn’t have to be,” Todd said. “He did a lot with high fastballs and we were chasing them.”
Simon was only in trouble in the seventh and even that came with two outs, when the Vikings got back-to-back hits from Caleb Hemmings and Cayden Long. It took a nice running catch by Destrehan right fielder Shane Lee near the foul line to end the game or things would have gotten really interesting.
The evening was interesting – though maybe a little calm for the casual fan – in the first half of the game as Airline sophomore lefthander Carter White was matching Simon throughout. White retired the first 11 batters of the game without even so much as a hard-hit ball.
A two-out bloop single by Lee in the fourth inning seemed harmless at the time, but Simon followed with a double to left-center. Designated hitter Keston Granier ripped a 3-2 pitch right by White’s ear for a two-run single to make it 2-0.
Twice in that inning, the Vikings were one strike away from being back in the dugout.
White almost got out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, but a two-out error scored two more Wildcat runs to make it 4-0.
A strike here and a clean ground ball and these two teams might still be playing. But that’s what you expect when you have a No. 16 seed (Airline) playing a No. 17 seed (Destrehan).
“You feel like if we played a best-of-three series, it would go all three games,” Todd said. “I thought we were really evenly matched.”
The Vikings finish the season with an 18-14 record, but that doesn’t tell the complete story.
“We just had a home playoff game and we are a team that didn’t make the playoffs last year,” Todd said. “Last year these guys got thrown in the fire and we took our lumps. We found a way to win games against teams that I think were more talented than us. The season as a whole? Huge success.”
Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL