By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
They’ve been here before, but that’s not enough for the Northwood Falcons.
Reaching the LHSAA baseball quarterfinals is always a nice accomplishment and the Falcons did that last year. But they lost.
Northwood is back again for another shot to get to the state’s Final Four tournament, but the Falcons will have to get past Rummel (New Orleans) to do it. The Falcons, the No. 5 seed, will play host to Game 1 of the best-of-three series Friday night at 6 p.m. at James Farrar Stadium in the Division I (Select) playoffs.
“This year (reaching the quarterfinals) was an expectation,” Northwood coach Austin Alexander said. “Unless you are building a program, you expect to get this far and beyond. This year has kind of a been-there-done-that. Last year, we just got our feet wet because we hadn’t been there before.”
Northwood survived a Game 3 last weekend against No. 12 Tioga when Jaxon Bentzler hit the first pitch in the bottom of the seventh for a walk-off home run.
As exciting as that was, it didn’t surprise Alexander. “It’s the same stuff we’ve been doing all year long,” he said. “We are not going to give up or quit. We are going to keep fighting. We’ve played in a lot of close games. I always tell our guys that the better team will win those games.”
As the old sports cliché goes, the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores and that’s especially true for the Falcons’ pitching staff. When they were freshmen in ’22, Christian Blackmon, Jack Carlisle and Bentzler helped lead Northwood to the quarters last year and are back at it again.
“They have all had really good years,” Alexander said. “We haven’t quite yet decided on how we are going to pitch it this weekend, but we’ve got confidence in all of them.”
In their two years on the Falcons staff, the trio has combined for 46 of the team’s 58 wins. Northwood only lost two starters from last year’s 29-11 team and got back designated hitter Mason Welch, who skipped his junior year to concentrate on football.
Rummel, the 13th seed, is making the trip back to Shreveport after beating fourth-seeded Captain Shreve last week, including a 5-4 win in 10 innings to clinch it.
“At this point of the season, everyone is good,” Alexander said. “Everybody has good pitchers and guys who can hit. We are just proud to be in the top eight and still playing.”
CALVARY at NOTRE DAME: Don’t expect Calvary coach Jason Legg to spend a lot of time grinding through the analytics when it comes to a scouting report on the Pioneers. Game 1 between the sixth-seeded Cavs and No. 3 seed Notre Dame will be this evening at 6 p.m. at Crowley’s venerable Miller Stadium (built in 1948 but renovated in 2021 with turf.)
“They are going to be a very scrappy bunch of guys from what I can gather,” Legg said. “I don’t take a lot of stock of what people send me with spray charts and other stuff. I really just want to know tendencies. Do they run? Do they bunt? Does the catcher have a good arm? Other than that, we are going to go out there and play our game. I’m not going to overthink this thing.”
Calvary had no trouble last week with Fisher, winning by scores of 3-0 and 18-0 to advance to the Division III (Select) quarterfinals.
“We are playing very well right now,” Legg said. “We are as healthy as we can be and hitting it very well and been getting complete games out of our lefties.”
That would be junior Landon Fontenot in Game 1 and senior Jackson Legg in Game 2 on Friday. Calvary comes into the game having won 20 of the last 21 games. Notre Dame is 26-5 and winners of 15 of the last 17.
BYRD at JESUIT: They may be separated by 300 miles, but there is no lack of familiarity between the Yellow Jackets and the Blue Jays. It was Jesuit that knocked Byrd out of the playoffs last year and two years ago when Byrd was in the state championship game, it was Jesuit who denied the Jackets.
Byrd, the No. 10 seed, will travel to New Orleans to play at Jesuit’s John Ryan Stadium for the three-game series against the second-seeded Blue Jays in the Division I (Select) quarterfinals. The first game is Friday at 6 o’clock.
“We are obviously very familiar with them,” Byrd coach Greg Williams said. “It’s a typical Jesuit team. They have some power and some really good arms on the mound.”
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a wild three-game series against seventh-seeded Brother Martin (New Orleans) with Byrd claiming the first 6-2 before the Saturday double-header had two run-rule games — Brother Martin winning 14-3 and Byrd taking the decider 16-5.
“Any time you get to play in the playoffs in New Orleans, it’s fun. It was a great atmosphere and we just fought to the end,” Williams said. “And now we get the opportunity to do it again.”
He will be hoping for another big performance by senior right-hander Kevin Robinson, who pitched a complete game last week in the opener. He struck out five and did not allow a walk.
“And we’ve been hitting it well one through nine in our lineup,” Williams said.
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