A lot of baseball, and a lot of heart

About the only thing missing was the 1 o’clock-in-the-morning starting game time and the hand-written bracket that looked like a step-ladder.

Otherwise, the Shreveport Regional of the 2022 NAIA baseball tournament had all the appearances of a 1980s weekend softball tournament. Double elimination, but if you lose early in the event, the deck is stacked against you. The only favorable option is to just keep playing and playing and playing.

And playing, which is what happened Thursday at Pilot Field, where LSUS finally got its collective head to sea level after threatening to drown all week.

Once it got to a game where there were no more options for either team, the Pilots felt like they were on even terms.

And they were actually on more even terms than many realize. This would be the fifth game in four days for LSUS, having to work its way through the loser’s bracket to get to the final matchup with Loyola (New Orleans).

But this was also Loyola’s fifth game in four days, since the Wolf Pack did not have the opening round bye that the Pilots did on Monday.

Just put it this way – it’s a lot of baseball for both teams.

You would have thought that the winner of this game would be the team less worn out than the other one. Sure, the pitching staffs were a little used up, but what was most impressive is how both teams took gut punches and responded.

LSUS coach Brad Neffendorf wasn’t about to go down without at least giving the ball to his two best pitchers – Kevin Miranda and Bobby Vath – who had combined for almost half of the team’s 50 wins.

“We just needed somebody to start it,” Nefferdorf said of Miranda. “And Vath kind of has a bullpen mentality on the mound.”

Loyola got ahead 4-0 but before the game could get away from them, the Pilots posted two runs with two outs on a bloop single to right and a wild pitch.

Not exactly a highlight video, but 4-2 was a whole lot better than 4-0.

The first of two home runs by Allbry Major tied it in the fourth, but Loyola came back to take the lead before LSUS came back again to tie it in the bottom of the sixth.

That led to two-run homers by both teams to keep it tied.

That’s responding with it all on the line. Neither team was going to lay down.

Neffendorf wasn’t surprised in the least because he’d seen it before.

On April 20, LSUS was down 5-3 to Southwestern Assemblies of God University going into the bottom of the ninth when pinch hitter Zyon Avery hit a two-out, two-run home run to send it into extra innings. The Pilots went on to win in 10 innings.

Thursday, a two-run home run by a pinch hitter (Jaylin Turner) with two outs won the game. Sound familiar?

And how about this? Turner was pinch hitting for … Zyon Avery.

“If we hadn’t gone through a game like that (in April), I don’t know,” Neffendorf said. “We’ve gone through a little bit of everything in the last few weeks. We just kept battling.”

Asked what won it for the Pilots, Neffendorf didn’t hesitate.

“It’s all about the players,” he added. “They’ve been resilient the whole year. What credit don’t they deserve?”


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SPOTLIGHT: New football coach Scogin happy on Viking Drive

SETTING THE TONE: New Airline football coach Justin Scogin talks to the Vikings after spring practice ended this week with an intrasquad scrimmage.

By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

New Airline High School football coach Justin Scogin and LSU’s Brian Kelly have some things in common going into their first seasons. For starters, Scogin is taking a 1-0 record into year one on Viking Drive. The Vikings completed their spring practice on Tuesday night with an intrasquad scrimmage, like Kelly’s LSU team did.

For Scogin, it was nice to get on the turf and under the lights with his players and coaches for the first time. And it was a win, any way you measure it.

“It felt great,” Scogin said. “One, to be in the unbelievable stadium, one of the few places around with turf. Just to have the players and coaches out there playing football. It was good all the way around. Spring was a huge success for us.”

That is not where the comparisons between Kelly and Scogin end. Both will have some decisions to make during the fall when it’s time to decide on a starting quarterback.

Juniors Ladarius Epps and Preston Doerner, and sophomore Ben Taylor, have all impressed the head man when it comes to learning Scogin’s offense, especially considering there were only nine spring practices. 

“All three are really smart,” Scogin said. “All three are fun to be around. The quarterback position is wide open.”

But that is where the comparisons with LSU’s Kelly end, as far as Scogin is concerned. 

“Bo did a really good job establishing the culture here,” Scogin said of former Airline head coach Bo Meeks, who had been in the position for 11 years. “I’d hate to be a college coach and have to go in and establish the culture. You have to deal with the transfer portal and NIL. It’s a disaster.”

After Meeks stepped away, Scogin was hired on Friday, March 25 by Airline principal Justin James. And while he wanted the job that he calls “one of the best situations in the state,” he took a wait-and-see approach after his interview.

“In my experience, you never apply for a job and feel like without a shadow of doubt that you’re the guy,” Scogin said. “I thought with the situation Airline has here that Les Miles or Ed Orgeron may apply. I thought I had a 50/50 shot to get it. During the process, I didn’t hear any names of other candidates. After I was hired, I heard some names that applied and know they would have been good choices. I just feel lucky to be the guy who was selected.”

The skill of the athletes, the number of athletes in the school, and the facilities are the three reasons Scogin believes the Airline job is among the best in Louisiana.

“I was at Parkway for several years,” Scogin said. “I know the kind of athletes they have here. They also have 2,000 kids in the school. There aren’t many high schools in Louisiana that can say that. Finally, their commitment to improving athletic facilities here has been second to none.”

During Scogins’ time at Parkway, he met some Airline assistant coaches, who he held in high regard. He correctly believed taking the Vikings’ helm would be a tuneup, not a rebuild, and he would not have to clean house with an entirely new staff.

Scogin received the job offer from James at 3 on a Friday afternoon. In the next hour, his first as the Vikings’ head man, he reached out to the middle school coaches at Cope and Greenacres.

“It was that important to me,” Scogin said. “I have sat down with them (since). I want to be visible. I want those kids to come to our games on Friday nights. I want them to grow up wanting to wear the navy and columbia blue.” 

Scogin has brought in Zack Pourciau, who will serve as the defensive coordinator, and Logan Kreyenbuhl for his staff. Pourciau came from Pineville, where he served in the same position, and Kreyenbuhl came with Scogin from Leesville.

“(Pourciau) was good with taking lesser skilled guys at Pineville and making it tough for you to move the ball against them,” Scogin said. “He was a long shot for me to get. There were two that I wanted. Zack was 1A for me.

“(Kreyenbuhl) is a high energy guy and will assume the role that I had at Leesville,” Scogin said of Kreyenbuhl, who will coach wide receivers. “He brings a certain energy with him that will benefit our kids.” 

With his first spring finished, Scogin and the Vikings turn their attention to summer, when they will play as much 7-on-7 as they can.

“I think it’s important to build that team chemistry,” Scogin said. “We are going to compete every day. Of course, we’re going to lift and get on the track and run. We’re just going to continue to move in the direction we want on both sides of the ball.”

The only drawback in the first month and half?

“That’s easy,” Scogin said. “Being here with my family being in Leesville. That’s been brutal…on me.”

The Scogin family will soon be reunited for summer, while the Airline family has found their man to lead the football program.  

Photo by SETH STOWELL


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SPOTLIGHT: Steele Netterville is double trouble

SWEET SWING: Byrd High alumnus Steele Netterville has refined his batting stroke, denting outfield walls and the Louisiana Tech record book.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Louisiana Tech rightfielder and three-hole hitter Steele Netterville is a bright dude.

For the third straight year, Netterville was last week named First Team Academic All-District by the College Sports Information Directors of America.

His GPA is 3.93. (In baseball terminology, that’s like hitting .995)

A fifth-year senior, he graduated with a degree in biology and is studying for his second degree in kinesiology and health sciences. He was accepted into medical school in May, but the school held the spot open so the Byrd High School product could return to Tech for his final year of baseball eligibility.

So grade-wise, he can’t even spell “B.”

But hitting a baseball? That’s a different kind of test.

Organic Chemistry was hard. But hey, he still made an A.

“Hitting is harder,” he said, “by a long, long, long shot.”

“I would never say I’ve figured it out,” said Netterville, who’s hitting .311 with 62 RBI, 13 homers and 13 doubles: his 60 career doubles is a program record. “As soon as you think you’ve got hitting figured out, you get your teeth kicked in.”

He hit only .253 as a sophomore — but he still led the Bulldogs with 26 extra base hits, tied for homers with seven, and was third on the team in RBI.

Not satisfied, he did what he does. He studied. And as the old saying goes, when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear; former Northwestern State and Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard became Tech’s hitting coach before Netterville’s third season.

Lots of pitching machine sliders in the dirt. Lots of film. Lots of just talking about hitting. About making pitchers get the ball up. Just those two and baseball. Time and practice.

“You’d think that, righty on righty, slider would be his weakness,” teammate and righthanded pitcher Greg Martinez said. “And it was. But after pitching against him the last couple years, I can say that it’s not anymore. He’s learned to stay away from those (sliders out of the zone). His timing’s better. And he was already pretty much geared for the fastball.”

Netterville and his teammates, 36-17 overall, 18-9 and two games out of first behind Southern Miss, head into a three-game series today to complete the regular season against Charlotte, 34-18, 16-11 and the hottest team in the league, 11-1 in its last four conference series.

The CUSA Tournament begins next Wednesday in Hattiesburg, Miss. And Netterville likes his team’s chances, for reasons no one but those on the team would fully understand.

“I like us because of how much this team has gone though, dating back to the tornado (in April 2019 that destroyed Tech’s home field),” he said. “The newer guys on the team have heard about it. And this year we’ve got the same number of wins as last year (when Tech hosted a NCAA Regional), but it seems like none of them have been easy. We’ve been super resilient. We’ve been knocked down on the mat, and every time we’ve gotten up.”


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Tennis around the clock? 40 years ago, it happened here

Forty years ago, a couple of local tennis pros were kicking around an idea. Seems some guys in Oklahoma had set the Guinness Book of World Records for playing doubles for 87 hours in order to raise money for a worthy cause.

“Wanna try?” said Chris Brown.

Brown, then the head pro at Pierremont Tennis Club, was posing the question to assistant pro Jimmy Livesay, who already had the right cause in mind.

“This was back when Centenary (College) was getting ready to build the tennis courts,” says Livesay, now the head pro and owner of Indoors Racket Club. “My brother was playing at Centenary and so was Joe Prather. What a great cause. We could try to break the record and raise money for the Centenary tennis courts.”

And so the challenge was on. Brown and Livesay got in touch with fellow local pros Stuart Bunn (East Ridge Country Club) and Marvin Street (Shreveport Country Club) to find out if they were interested in the idea.

It wasn’t long before the four guys had come up with the idea – the Tennis Marathon would be held over Memorial Day weekend and consist of “3 Days and 18 Hours of Non-Stop Tennis.”

On May 27, 1982, at 6 p.m., the four pros started the marathon doubles match at Pierremont Oaks with the goal of breaking the record on May 31 at noon.

People pledged money for certain amounts of time with all proceeds to benefit the Shreveport Metropolitan Tennis Association and the Centenary Tennis Complex Project.

“We set the goal for 90 hours,” recalls Livesay, “and we did it. Three days of non-stop tennis.”

According to the rules set by Guinness, the foursome would get a five-minute break for every hour they played so they’d play for 12 straight hours and got to take an hour break. Cots were set up in the locker room but the pros were too amped up to sleep.

“At one point, Chris just stood there (on the court),” says Livesay. “He was just looking straight ahead and wasn’t saying anything. Then we figured out he had fallen asleep standing up.”

Sleep deprivation was a common consequence. At one point, local pro Lance Dreyer saw Marvin Street wandering in the parking lot and asked what he was doing. “I’ve got to play in the marathon,” answered Street.

Medical personnel were on standby for any emergencies, there was a masseuse on hand, and there were always people in the stands watching – sometimes more than others.

“The worst time was about two in the morning,” says Livesay, “and early mornings were tough.”

When it started raining, the foursome would run over to the indoor courts and keep playing until they could resume outside.

And so it went, on and on. “Even in those last hours, we played some pretty good tennis,” remembers Livesay. By the time Monday rolled around, Pierremont Oaks was packed with people. Radio stations and TV stations were on site to capture the world record.

“We felt like big celebrities,” says Livesay. “It was so cool.”

Not only had the local pros broken the record, they had also raised over $10,000 for local tennis to help in the construction of the Centenary Tennis Complex.

My, how times have changed. According to Livesay, those tennis courts for which they raised the money to build will soon be torn down. Brown and Bunn have retired from tennis and moved away. After serving as the pro at Querbes Tennis Center for years, Street has also retired.

So, no rematch? “No way,” says Livesay, who underwent his second knee surgery six weeks ago. “But we had a blast. It’s just hard to believe that was 40 years ago.”


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Road trip to Tensas doesn’t disappoint

Two years ago when I visited the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge in Madison Parish for the first time, I hoped to see a bear. It didn’t happen but I saw enough and triggered the interest in my wife sufficiently that she wanted to go see this remarkable place.

A year later, it all came together when we were invited by my friend and regular Tensas visitor, Dr. Terry Jones, for the trip over to tour the refuge which touches parts of three parishes, Madison, Tensas and Franklin.

This special part of our state has a fascinating history. Founded in 1980 to preserve one of the largest privately owned tracts of bottomland hardwoods remaining in the Mississippi River delta, the refuge encompasses some 80,000 acres of pure swampy bottomland hardwood majesty. This type of habitat once covered 25 million acres, the majority of which over the years was cleared to make way for farmland, the rich soils being the major attraction.

Today, these same rich soils support some 400 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. The largest population of the threatened Louisiana black bears live here. Tantalizing too is the fact that the last verified sighting of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, now believed to be extinct, was in 1940 on the area that now makes up the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge.

With that bit of history laid out, now back to this past Monday when we drove over to see what Tensas would show us. She didn’t disappoint.

First, Jones led us to the check station where mandatory forms were completed so refuge managers can keep count of the number of visitors. Then we headed down Mill Road where Jones and I had seen alligators on our previous visit. While not as many as we had seen on our last visit, they were there; we watched five gators paddling easily over the waters of a borrow pit with the largest being maybe 10 feet long.

After photographing the alligators, we reversed course, drove back to the check station where Jones suggested I lead out on a slow drive down Quebec Road, telling us to keep an eye out for “critters.”

“We have sometimes seen bears along this drive,” Jones said as we motored away.

A mile or so down the road, something caught my eye. There was a bear in the roadside ditch maybe 10 feet from the car. She ascended the shallow bank and stopped next to a large tree. My wife and watched spellbound as two tiny bear cubs followed her up the bank. Our cameras and those of Jones, who had pulled to a stop behind me, were busy photographing the bear and her little ones.

They remained in the same spot as we drove off down the road talking about how fortunate we were to see such a sight. Turning around half an hour later and returning to the spot, lo and behold, the trio of bears was still there.

We got to watch one of the little guys climb a few yards up the tree for a better look, with our cameras snapping away and disrupting their afternoon of doing whatever they were doing when we spotted them.

Finally, mama bear had had enough of all the attention. She glared at us sitting in our vehicles 20 steps away from her, then rushed forward a few feet making a “huff, huff” sound.

We got the message. We had gotten to witness what we came to see and drove away leaving the bears to themselves but left with memories we won’t soon forget.


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SPOTLIGHT: Haughton’s Anderson, Calvary’s Legg top SBJ All-Metro baseball team

JOURNAL STAFF

Haughton coach Glenn Maynor didn’t have to look far to find someone to fill the hole caused by graduation to his pitching staff. He had the perfect replacement ready to go in Austin Anderson.

“Last year he was strictly a reliever and he did a great job with that,” said Maynor. “This year, we needed him to start games and he accepted that challenge and did a great job.”

Anderson, a junior, was 9-2 with a 1.72 ERA for the Bucs with 77 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched. But he did more than that, which is why he is the Outstanding Player on The Journal’s 2022 All-Metro baseball team.

“Throughout district, he was our best hitter and best pitcher,” Maynor said. “Obviously, he meant a lot to our team. Especially in the second half of the year, he was crushing it.”

When he wasn’t pitching, Anderson played first base and batted .398 with 12 doubles, one home run and 30 RBI.

The Coach of the Year is Calvary’s Jason Legg, who led the Cavaliers to a Division IV state championship in his first year as head coach.

Legg put together a schedule for Calvary that had them prepared for the state championship run, playing 12 games against Class 5A teams (the Cavs were 6-6 in those games). In addition to tough competition, the Cavs overcame adversity: they lost two starters to injury during the season and had another starter knocked out of the state semifinal game.

“I thought when we started (the season) that we could do what we accomplished this year,” Legg said. “We signed up for rings in week one and that wasn’t just coachspeak. I really believed it.”

Also considered for Coach of the Year was Northwood’s Austin Alexander, who led the Falcons to their first quarterfinal appearance since 2005 with a team that featured three freshman pitchers.

Four Cavaliers join Legg on the All-Metro team – senior pitcher Blaine Rogers, senior designated hitter Cody VanNoppen, senior shortstop Caden Flowers and sophomore outfielder Aubrey Hermes.

Only half of the players on the 16-player team are seniors.

Eight Shreveport-Bossier coaches, along with two local baseball observers, were invited to nominate and participate in selecting the Journal All-Metro team. The team was limited to one player at each standard position, plus a pitching staff consisting of four starters and a relief pitcher. Two utility players were chosen, based on having split time as both a pitcher and a position player.

The “Best of the Rest” is for those who were given strong consideration for the first team. The 11 selections were not chosen by position.

2022 SBJ ALL-METRO BASEBALL TEAM

Catcher – Zach Schoenborn, Parkway (Jr.)

First Base – Patrick Snead, Byrd (Sr.)

Second Base – Blake Fant, Captain Shreve (Sr.)

Shortstop – Caden Flowers, Calvary (Sr.)

Third Base – Harrison Waxley, Airline (Sr.)

Outfield – Tucker McCabe, Northwood (So.)

Outfield – Aubrey Hermes, Calvary (So.)

Outfield – Colin Rains, Haughton (Jr.)

Designated Hitter – Cody VanNoppen, Calvary (Sr.)

Pitcher – Austin Anderson, Haughton (Jr.)

Pitcher – Sawyer Simmons, Benton (Jr.)

Pitcher – William Soignier, Loyola (Sr.)

Pitcher – Blaine Rogers, Calvary (Sr.)

Relief Pitcher – Cale Latimer, Benton (Jr.)

Utility – Cade Josting, Parkway (Sr.)

Utility – Jaxon Bentzler, Northwood (Fr.)

Outstanding Player – Austin Anderson, Haughton

Coach of the Year – Jason Legg, Calvary

BEST OF THE REST

Christian Blackmon, Northwood (Fr.)

Jack Carlisle, Northwood (Fr.)

Reagan Coyle, Loyola (Soph.)

David Favrot, Byrd (Sr.)

Peyton Fulghum, Evangel (So.)

Trenton Lape, Parkway (Jr.)

Kennon Lauterbach, Benton (Jr.)

Chan Lytle, Haughton (Sr.)

Mason Morgan, Airline (Jr.)

Davin Watkins, Southwood (Sr.)

Carter White, Airline (Soph.)


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Grassroots hoops and Shreveport-Bossier should be the perfect couple

Before Bossier High’s rise and the Bearkats’ return to greatness, or Mikaylah Williams being justifiably heralded as the No. 1 girls’ prep player in the nation, Shreveport-Bossier was one of the pinnacles for high school hoops in the South.

Back in the days of the CNB Times Classic, teams from all over the state, and various parts of the country, came here to play. The competition here was some of the best anywhere. But hey, the high school historians in the area can tell you that.

The same thing should be said about grassroots or AAU or summer travel basketball. Whatever you call it, Shreveport-Bossier should be a hotbed for it.

There has been only one thing stopping Shreveport-Bossier from being a hub for grassroots hoops, however— a facility worthy of holding these contests.

Well, that was a problem. Last week’s report in The Journal about the renovation project to convert Expo Hall into a multi-sport, public facility is the game changer that Shreveport has needed for grassroots.

This indoor sports facility will bring teams, competition, and tourism dollars to the area. You want the high school basketball players to get better in the area and gain more exposure? Hosting regional and national grassroots tournaments for them to participate in has now become a tangible goal.

Those who believe the concept is far-fetched obviously do not know or have yet to see what Shreveport-Bossier can offer the grassroots basketball community. It’s not hard to see. Just open your eyes.

We have Interstate 20 which is one of the main interstate exchanges in America. Shreveport Regional Airport is highly serviceable and numerous teams can fly in from different areas. We actually have teen-friendly entertainment venues, if people are worried about something for the kids to do when they’re not on the court.

Mix all of these assets with the high number of quality basketball players and teams in the Ark-La-Tex, add the short distance that teams from Oklahoma and Mississippi would have to travel, and Shreveport-Bossier has the makings of one of the best places to play grassroots basketball, period.

I know, I know. We will always have pushback from the “too much crime” crowd. However, we find a way to host baseball and softball tournaments all summer, the largest slow-pitch softball event in the south, and even the nationally-televised Independence Bowl. So, you’d have to come up with a bigger argument than that.

In reality, I am aware that we will continue to send our teams and our money to Fort Worth, Dallas, Ruston, and other places. The athletes in the area need to be exposed to other areas and have other life experiences. However, there is no place like home! Getting to compete with other high profile basketball players from around the country, at home, would be a major plus for our local athletes.

Now, let’s welcome influential entities like Prep Hoops, the Under Armour circuit, Adidas, and even Nike to northwest Louisiana.

The recently restructured Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission should be making plans to gain the ear of these grassroots entities with target dates in tow. Once the renovated Expo Hall opens, the benefits to the athletes and the area will be boundless.

Grassroots basketball and Shreveport-Bossier are a couple made in hoops and economic heaven. Now we just need to see if it can be a marriage that can last a lifetime.

After $4.5 million renovation, Expo Hall will be indoor sports venue


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SPOTLIGHT: Calvary’s state championship was hardly routine

POISED TO DELIVER: Junior catcher Cade Bedgood went 2-for-5 Saturday, driving in a run as Calvary Baptist captured another state baseball championship,

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

Watch enough high school baseball and you’ll quickly come to the realization that there is no such thing as a routine ground ball. It doesn’t matter if it is the third inning of the pre-season jamboree or the bottom of the seventh inning of the championship game. Too many things can happen, either physically or mentally.

So when Ouachita Christian had the winning run on third base in Saturday’s Division IV state championship game against Calvary and a routine ball was hit to second base, the Cavaliers’ Logan Fontenot had to make the play.

Couldn’t let it go between his legs. Couldn’t fumble it. Couldn’t short-arm the throw to first base. And this is a teenager we are talking about. These aren’t automatic plays even in the major leagues: Google “Chuck Knoblauch” or “Steve Sax” to find out why.

Calvary coach Jason Legg had plenty of things to worry about at that point, but his infield defense wasn’t one of them. “I’m telling you there were four guys there (in the infield) who wanted the ball hit to them,” he said.

Even though things had started going sideways for the Cavaliers in the previous 10 minutes — the Cavs had been one out away from hoisting the trophy before Eagles scored three runs to tie it in the bottom of the seventh, and had the bases loaded — Fontenot didn’t even blink.

He made a routine play look just that – routine. And because of that, Calvary would go on to win their fifth state title an extra-inning later with a 12-4 margin Saturday in Hammond on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana.

Think of all the things that could have happened to the Cavs in that situation without the ball even being hit. A curveball grazes the jersey of a batter. A balk. A wild pitch or a passed ball. Ball Four.

The state championship was on the line. Somebody had to make a play. And Fontenot did.

If he didn’t, what transpired next would have never happened. After the groundout, the Cavs got back in the dugout and realized the most important thing – they were still playing.

“When I went out to coach third in the top of the eighth, I told their coaches, ‘This is how a state championship game should be,’” Legg said.

Not for long.

The Cavs rattled off twice as many runs in the top of the eighth as they had in the previous seven innings combined. And guess who knocked in the go-ahead run in the eight-run inning? Of course it was Fontenot.

Guess who was in the middle of a game-ending, championship-winning double play to make it official? Fontenot.

Commence dogpile.

“I stood back and watched the previous two dogpiles (in the quarterfinals and the semifinals),” Legg said. “I was fine with them (the players) doing it, but there’s only one that matters. So I made sure I got in this one. That’s probably the most air I’ve gotten since high school.”

There was another play that happened that, like Fontenot’s, may seem routine but is one of those little things that win games.

With the score tied at 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh and a runner on second, a single to left-center field would have scored a lot of runs in most high school games. But with the championship on the line, Calvary centerfielder Aubrey Hermes got to the ball quickly, forcing OCS to put the stop sign out for the runner heading into third with the difference-maker.

“He did a great job of getting to that ball and getting it back to the infield,” Legg said of Hermes’ play. “But if he doesn’t get to it that fast or it eats him up with a bad hop, who knows? I was a little surprised that they held him, but I think he would have been a dead duck.”

Maybe. But when runner, catcher and baseball all meet at home plate, nothing is for certain.

What is for certain is that those little plays – Hermes in the outfield and Fontenot in the infield – prove that sometimes, championship plays are the routine ones.

And the Calvary Cavaliers made them.

Photo by ERIC LYDDY


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SPOTLIGHT: This lefty is all right

NEVER LOSE FOCUS: At one time the biggest player on the First Baptist Shreveport Patriots machine pitch team, Jonathan Fincher has become a bigger reason for Tech’s baseball success.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

He’s studying to be a surgeon, so Louisiana Tech scholar-athlete Jonathan Fincher will be in a life-or-death situation or two one day.

Baseball’s far from that. Even though, sometimes …

“In that moment of competition,” said Louisiana Tech’s junior lefthander, a nervous smile on his face, “it sure feels like life and death.”

Like for instance a couple of Sundays ago at Old Dominion when Fincher left the mound with two on and one out, in the deciding game of a three-game series, and his buddy Landon Tomkins came in and got a 6-4-3 double play on a 2-1 pitch to end the threat in a game Tech would win, 8-4, to move into second place in the Conference USA race. Biggest play of the game.

“I jumped about 18 feet high,” Fincher said, now all smiles in the players’ lounge of the Love Shack before a practice for this weekend’s crucial three-game set in Ruston against Western Kentucky. “I’m a big guy (6-3, 240), so 18 feet, that’s pretty high.”

Baseball life.

And then there’s baseball death, like Tech dropping two of three last weekend at home against Florida Atlantic to fall into a tie for third, a game behind UTSA, three behind league-leading Southern Miss, a team that took 2 of 3 from the visiting Bulldogs at the start of April.

And there’s Fincher, who, if you didn’t know him, might have been figured for life support a month ago.

Last spring he was first-team All C-USA. Led the Bulldog staff in strikeouts (85, walked only 23), innings pitched (100.1) and lowest opposing batting average against him (.219). Finished 8-3 for the West Division champs on a 42-20 Tech team that hosted an NCAA Regional, a first in program history.

But last month, Fincher found himself in the bullpen. His fastball wasn’t Fincher-fast and was finding too much of the plate, and his home runs allowed count was suspiciously high (six last year, nine in a little more than half as many innings this spring).

Teammate, close friend and lefty Cade Gibson was “putting together better innings,” Fincher said. The two swapped spots. Fincher’s heart didn’t even skip a beat.

“It was the logical move,” Fincher said. “Whatever the team needs. That’s the same attitude I’ve always had.”

He and pitching coach Cooper Fouts fixed a couple of mechanical things that have allowed him better command, and he’s gotten some velocity back by cutting his between-appearances workload.

Could be what the doctor ordered. If it’s not, it won’t be from lack of confidence or preparation. He’s book smart — Thursday he and teammate and Byrd High bestie Steele Netterville were named 2021-22 Baseball First Team Academic All-District — but he’s baseball smart too.

“Being able to deal with the pressure a situation puts on you,” he said, “whether it’s trying to save a person’s life or get a ground ball to second base … I think that’s the main thing baseball teaches you in life, to build that confidence in yourself to perform whatever task you’re trying to do at that point and time.

“Move on, pitch-to-pitch. Execute your plan. Lock in. Keep attacking.”

Those calling cards of focus and attack are the same reasons he feels no one should sleep on this year’s Bulldogs (33-17, 15-9), scheduled to play at 6 tonight, 2 Saturday (Senior Day) and 1 Sunday against WKU (17-30, 7-17).

“We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been through the tornado and playing without a stadium and dealing with COVID,” Fincher said, “a bunch of grinders who go to work and don’t really care what the outside has to say about what the team is doing at that moment. We’re going to lock shields and rely on each other.

“We’ve got a great core group,” he said. “I can’t wait to get to the park every day, just to hang out. At this point, if you’re not having fun, you’re probably in the wrong place.”

Photo courtesy of Louisiana Tech


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A time to appreciate, and times to anticipate

Saturday night in Sulphur – or maybe it will be Hammond – someone is going to catch a pop up or make a throw to first or get a strikeout. Or maybe it’ll be a walk-off hit, but it will happen.

The time, the place and the method really doesn’t matter. But when the last out is made (or last run is scored) in either the Class 5A state baseball finals (Sulphur) or the Division I finals (Hammond), that’s it. We’ll be done.

Another high school sports calendar will have run its course.

Seniors will graduate all across the state and those moments they have been pointing toward all their athletic life will officially be a memory. Another class steps up; another set of memories waiting to be made.

It starts in the heat of the late summer and ends in the heat of the late spring. It takes us for a ride throughout the calendar with the unexpected happening more often that you can count.

The stories within those nine months are what make high school sports so special. It’s not about the superstar who leaves for college early to get a jump on his next-level career. Those are the headliners and they certainly have their place.

Instead, focus on all the things that happen over the course of 40 weeks. Hopes. Dreams. Pain. Tears.

Life.

There’s a Class C basketball team in a town you’ve never heard of that just won its biggest game against the rival it could never beat. There’s a region, devastated by a natural disaster, that rallied just to field a high school football team because it was what they needed to do to feel normal.

There’s a girl who never played volleyball before and found a place on the team that did more for her self-esteem than anybody ever thought.

There’s the swimmer who missed being a state champion by .01 seconds or the softball player who took a called third strike with the bases loaded to end the game.

And there’s the kid who sat the bench at the Class 5A school, just waiting for his chance because his senior year was the only shot he was ever going to get. The kid who just wanted to play, even if it was a deep snapper or a courtesy runner.

They’ll hold trophies at the end of every sport’s season and everyone will smile as celebratory pictures and selfies are taken. Just a few feet away are the defeated opponents, who just knew it wasn’t going to be that way. It seems like that crushing pain will never go away. And then it does.

If you said high school sports are not like it used to be, you would be correct. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Athletic competition was never meant to be stagnant. We are always trying to run faster, throw harder and kick farther. That’s just athletics.

You have to look down into the core of high school athletics to see what’s going on now is what has always gone on. These are probably the greatest times and the greatest friends you’ll ever have. Tucked inside that calendar will be good memories and bad memories, but they will all be special.

And the best part of all? When it’s over, there’s another train coming.


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SPOTLIGHT: Biggest home game ever? Calvary hosts state semis tonight

SET FOR SEMIS: The Calvary Baptist Cavaliers baseball team has a ‘super cool’ opportunity to play a state semifinal game at home this evening, and has weathered many challenges to reach this point.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

For a school that’s won four baseball state championships, it might seem a little strange to hear that tonight’s LHSAA Division IV semifinal game might be the biggest ever played at Calvary’s home field.

But there’s an easy explanation for that: The Cavaliers have never played a home semifinal game before.

“Super cool,” is how head coach Jason Legg describes it.

In something of a tournament scheduling quirk, semifinal games in three of the Select divisions (II, III and IV) are being played at home sites. However, those winners will have very little time to celebrate; they’ll have to be in Hammond for the state finals on Saturday.

In previous years, the semifinals and finals were played at a predetermined location. In winning championships in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2019, Calvary has played semifinal games in Alexandria, Monroe, Ruston and Sulphur.

Now you know why tonight’s 7 o’clock matchup with Covenant Christian (Houma) at Trademark Field is as big as it can get.

“I really don’t love it from the perspective of the logistics involved,” Legg said. “Whenever we’ve been before, the semifinals and finals were always at the same place. But I do love that we are going to host the game. It’s going to be an unbelievable crowd and atmosphere.”

Last weekend, the Cavaliers found themselves in quite a battle in the quarterfinals. Calvary traveled to Catholic-Pointe Coupee and got a masterful performance on the mound from Blaine Rodgers in Game 1. But Catholic turned the tables in Game 2 and things got interesting both on and off the field.

“It was one of the most uncomfortable situations our team has been in,” Legg said. “But pressure is a privilege for us. We have trained the entire year on being comfortable in the uncomfortable. I think we rose to the occasion. It was great to see everything come to fruition of what we’ve strived for all year.”

Part of that comes from the schedule Calvary has played, which Legg calls “the toughest in school history.” Try this on for size: the Cavs have played Sulphur (twice) and Dutchtown. Both are in the Class 5A semifinals and all three were one-run games.

They have played three Division II semifinalists, Parkview Baptist (twice) and St. Louis (twice) and University. They played the top seed in Class 5A (Barbe) and the No. 2 seed in Class 4A (Neville). They have played 12 Class 5A teams and are 6-6 in those games.

But battling adversity has been a constant for the Cavs this year with the death of outfielder Lane Mangum in a boating accident a year ago and season-ending injuries to two players (Hutch Grace, Drew Bickham) during the ’22 season.

“Our team has learned a lot about itself this year,” Legg said. “The grind we have been through has prepared us for what we have learned over the last two months. I knew what we had and the depth that we had. The job was to figure out what we could put in front of them that would be enough to prepare them for this moment. And these last two games are what that’s all about.”

Calvary is 24-15 while Covenant Christian comes in with a 24-13 record. The Lions have had to win a Game 3 in both of the previous playoff series, including an 8-7 win over Central Catholic in the deciding game.

Connor Matherne is the top pitcher for the Lions. The 6-foot-1 righthander is a Delgado JC commitment.

Legg said Rodgers (5-4) will get the start on the mound. “I don’t think that’s any kind of secret,” he said. “He’s pitched unbelievably well the last three games. He’s had a super senior year. Behind him is anybody and everybody.”

Photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL


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Want a (longshot) bet?

At a party over the weekend, I overheard a woman saying she had put a bet on 80-1 longshot Rich Strike to win the Kentucky Derby. While she did collect about $150, she was just one horse away from winning the trifecta – and pocketing over $300,000.

Or something like that. I know less about betting than I know about social media (remember, I had to get someone to make those awful videos disappear from my Facebook screen).

Over/under? That was a game we played during P.E. in high school – the one where you stand in line and pass the ball to the next person, one under, next over, etc.

One of my fondest (translated funniest) memories from that game was when I passed the ball to Susan McClamroch, who reached down between her legs to get the ball, stepped on her hair and came up with a handful of her ponytail. I figure the odds of that happening had to be greater than 80-1.

At 80-1, Rich Strike became the second-longest odds winner in the history of the Kentucky Derby, behind 1913 winner Donerail at 91-1 odds. I’m sure that means some people really raked in the dough. Out of curiosity, I looked up just how much money was actually wagered at the Triple Crown race this year.

Turns out, Rich Strike wasn’t the only one who made history. According to ESPN, a record $179 million was wagered at Churchill Downs this year. Turns out, also, that’s not even close to what was wagered at the Super Bowl ($1 billion) and even further removed from this year’s March Madness ($3.1 billion).

I don’t know how much will be wagered on this year’s College World Series – either in softball or baseball, but I’ve got a couple of bets for you.

The first one is a sure bet (I think that’s what they call a “lock”): take Oklahoma in the Women’s CWS. Now that the conference championships are under way, it won’t be long until we get to one of my new favorite times of the year – the WCWS. When OU goes to Oklahoma City to defend its title beginning on June 2, the Sooners will have the advantage of fielding one of the greatest players in college softball history.

Utility infielder (and NFCA Player of the Year last season) Jocelyn Alo, who became the all-time home run leader when she smashed her 96th career homer on March 11, will be trying to close out her Sooners’ career with another national championship. The Sooners, who return almost their entire team, also have returning NFCA Freshman of the Year Tiare Jennings, who was second in the NCAA in home runs and led the nation in doubles.

If I were a betting person, that’s where my money would go.

I’m not sure who will be favored to win it all when the CWS begins June 16 in Omaha, Neb., but Tennessee has got to be the front-runner. If you’re looking for a dark horse, however, I’ve got one for you.

When Coastal Carolina won the national championship in 2016, it was the first time that a team won the title in its first CWS appearance since Minnesota in 1956. It was also the first national title for the Big South Conference. The Chanticleers joined the Sun Belt Conference shortly thereafter. Florida was the favorite going into the tournament that year.

While the Division I conference tournaments haven’t even gotten under way, I’ll give you an early long shot for this year’s CWS – Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels are currently leading the West Division of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Like the 2016 Chanticleers, the Colonels would be making their first-ever appearance in the national tournament.

If EKU makes it to the A-Sun Tournament (May 24-28), ends up winning the title, and makes it through the June 3-6 regional AND the Super Regional (June 10-13), the next stop would be Omaha. With closer Will Brian leading the nation in saves and left-fielder Kendal Ewell at No. 8 in the nation in batting average, the Colonels are primed for a Cinderella run.

Could the Colonels be the next Chanticleers? You can bet on it.


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SPOTLIGHT: Consultant says Sports Commission’s posture threatened CVB’s culture

BACK FOR MORE: The U.S. Women’s National Team, which began its run to an Olympic Gold medal in Bossier City, will be back late this month for an international competition assisted by the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

The Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission is segregated from the rest of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, which “is a point of great concern for the culture and stability of the entire organization.”

That is according to an eight-page organizational assessment conducted by a Washington State-based consulting firm.

The report by Fired-Up! Culture is part of a $34,500 contract with the Bureau, which includes other services and “multiple visits to the market for on-site training,” said Bureau President and CEO Stacy Brown.

“The leadership of the sports development team is not best served in segregation from the rest of the organization,” the assessment reads. “This has caused significant distance and lack of equity and understanding between the sports team and the rest of the organization.”

Brown agreed. The Commission is a division of the Bureau.

“In recent years, it (sports commission staff) has become more segmented, where other staff members were really not participating in that,” Brown said. “What we’re doing is realigning to be able to use all of the staff more efficiently. For instance, we’ve had basically just one person working on sports marketing, out of a team of people that work on marketing. They all need to be integrated together so that sports is a part of all the marketing that we do.”

March 31, almost a month before the assessment was complete, the Bureau eliminated the Commission’s executive director position. Kelly Wells had been in that role for 12 years. Sara Nelms now has the title Director of Sports, Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission.

“Somebody has to own it,” said a nationally-recognized sports tourism expert, referring to the need for a point person when it comes to sports-related events. The expert reviewed the assessment at the Journal’s request. The expert requested anonymity, so as not to jeopardize any current or future projects.

“Especially in a destination like Shreveport that has such a rich history in sports,” the expert said. “(Shreveport) has a lot of great assets and has been doing (sports) a long time. It would be really hard to have a hybrid person in the (Convention and Visitors Bureau) that says ‘Oh, I dabble in sports as a director, and I’m over here doing this other stuff.’”

The assessment includes 15 recommendations for the Bureau and Commission to implement.

The first is for the Bureau to do an analysis of the cost, and return on investment, for each segment of business development, including sports.

“Our cost per sports delegate is higher than the norm,” Brown said. “So, we’re spending more money to get a sports delegate here than a lot of other communities are. So, looking at how we make sure we maximize our return on investment is very important.”

The expert said spending more money on sports is not a negative.

“Whatever the sports commission is driving compared to the other markets — leisure, conventions, meetings, those type things — it should get that percentage back as far as in support. That’s a huge thing. We see that a lot in small markets, where sports drives the ship, but then they’re an afterthought as far as budgetary concerns.”

Other recommendations include conducting a professional study to determine if the Bureau is paying a fair and competitive salary. Brown said that work has already started.

“Part of what we’re looking at is how we are positioned within the market,” Brown said, “but also, how are we positioned within our competitive set—which is other bureaus that are likely to steal from us.”


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SPOTLIGHT: BPCC has a twin win

FOCUSED ON HOME: Sophomore Primrose Aholelei has dealt with homesickness while at Bossier Parish Community College, but she’s mastered finding home plate, leading the country’s junior colleges in strikeouts.

By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports

When asked to name the highlight of this season so far, Bossier Parish Community College pitcher Primrose Aholelei could choose any of many accomplishments:

  • Retiring all 15 Kilgore batters she faced in a perfect game and 12-0 victory May 2;
  • In that same game, recording her 300th strikeout of the season and going 2-for-3;
  • Striking out 17 batters in her 1-0, complete-game shutout over Trinity Valley on April 27;
  • Recording her 500th career strikeout in a victory against Navarro College;
  • Averaging over 13 strikeouts per game and being No. 1 in the nation in both strikeouts (315) and wins (26).

However, the Hawaii native would rather talk about all the accomplishments the Lady Cavs have as a team. That includes a second consecutive 40-win season (fifth in the last six seasons) and winning the 2022 Region XIV East Conference with a 22-2 conference record.

“What I will remember is what we have done as a team, not my accomplishments,” said Aholelei, who struck out 11 and allowed just one hit in BPCC’s 8-0 victory over Paris Junior College in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader.

The Lady Cavs (40-10 overall), who took Game 2 of the doubleheader 6-4 to finish conference play, close out the regular season with a doubleheader today against non-conference foe LSU-Eunice at the BPCC Softball Field. Then they will begin the 2022 Region XIV Tournament at San Jacinto-South on May 13.

With the tremendous success Aholelei has enjoyed this season, she admits to struggling “a little bit” with her pitching at the beginning of the season.

“I worked with coach (Amanda Nordberg) on the basics and my mechanics,” says Aholelei. “And I worked on my mindset.”

The work has paid off, as the redshirt sophomore has posted a 26-2 record so far and boasts a microscopic ERA (0.95). After giving up 14 home runs last season, she has reduced that to just five this spring.

“Prim has been such an amazing component to our program’s success,” says Nordberg, “including back-to-back Region XIV East Conference Championships. It has been a privilege to watch her develop into one of the best pitchers in the country. She has humbly worked hard the past few years and it has been so much fun watching that hard work pay off.”

The pitcher’s circle is not the only place Aholelei has had a bit of a struggle. As is the case with many college students, being away from home can be stressful. Multiply that by a few thousand miles and you’d understand just how far away from home we’re talking – 3,989 miles, to be exact.

So, what does she miss most about home in Honolulu? “The food and being around family,” she says.

When you’re one of eight children, it’s especially tough to cope with separation. Fortunately for Aholelei, however, she doesn’t have to look far to see some of her family. Just 43 feet away from the pitcher’s circle is her twin sister Precious, who plays catcher for the Lady Cavs.

“That has had a huge impact,” she says. “I feed off of her. It feels normal to have family here. I don’t know how I would be without her.”

The twins have been playing softball together since they were eight years old. Back then, however, it was Precious throwing to Primrose. “I was actually her catcher for a while,” she says.

They switched positions when they started playing 10-under ball and the rest, as they say, is history. But the Aholelei history will not end when the sisters leave BPCC as both will be playing on full scholarships at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi next season.

“It has been a dream of ours to play at a D(ivision) I school,” says Primrose, who’s had a dream season this spring.

Photo courtesy BPCC


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Read the funny papers? No thanks. I’ll take the 5 horse to win

 Growing up in the late 1960s and early 70s, families sat around the kitchen table each morning before heading to school and work.

Scrambled eggs, hard talks, and loose laughter set the day’s tone.

My friends spent part of that time reading the “funny pages”— formally known as the newspaper comics.

Not me.

My Dad taught me to read two things — the stock market page, and the Daily Racing Form.

Today, I would probably be better off had I stuck with the ins and outs of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Instead, I focused on the Beyer Speed figure for horses in the seventh race at Churchill Downs.

But, just before my 11th birthday, I received the best gift of all.

On Oct. 30, 1974, Louisiana Downs opened its starting gate.

I now had a “home” track.

Never mind I was too young to get inside. Settling for the next best thing, I watched through a chain link fence, separating the rising grandstand on Highway 80 East from its parking lot.

This was the routine: I worked in the family business, which was open seven days a week. Our Sunday hours were 9 a.m.-3 p.m. With an early afternoon card, there was time to watch — and bet on — several races. That included the feature race — the best horses — saddled with the best jockeys, running for the most money.

Racing Form in hand and dollar bills in pockets, we would leave my mom’s car at the old Chateau Hotel downtown, hustle into my dad’s car, and “race” toward I-20 East and the “Race Track” exit.

We parked, Mom and Dad went inside, and I stayed outside at my usual post position. The view wasn’t great. Heck, it wasn’t even good. But I could hear the action, described by track announcer Bob Kinney.

That was good enough for me.

Between races, my mom would walk over to the fence. I would give her a piece of paper — and my two dollars — with my bet written down for the next race. Sometimes, she would bring me a hot dog or an ice cream cone. Let me tell you, it takes a mom with skills to squeeze food through a chain link fence!

After the last race, I would meet my parents in front of the grandstand for the long (and in the summer, sweltering) walk to the car. In Louisiana Downs’ heyday, that meant to the back of the parking lot. If the timing was right, we would hop the shuttle. That’s right, so many people used to go to the Downs that the track had shuttle buses carrying folks around the parking lot!

Such good memories. It didn’t matter if I won or lost. I was at the track (kind of), could hear the thundering of hooves, the roar of the crowd, and the excitement in Kinney’s voice:

“They turn for home now, and Shishkabob shows the way by two!”

I’ve been to Louisiana Downs only a handful of times in the past 10 years. With just a few railbirds standing near the finish line, and most horses one step from the pasture, the excitement was gone.

But now I have hope. Hope that new ownership — more of an individual instead of a casino corporation, which appeared to care very little about racing — will turn the track around. I’ve interviewed the new owner a few times. He says the right things. He says he has a plan.

But the proof will be in what he does.

If he does what he says, I’ll be back. And this time, I’ll be inside of the fence.


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Louisiana’s catfish grand slam

The most satisfying thing I have accomplished in my lifetime of hunting has to be the completion of my wild turkey Grand Slam in 2003.

There is another grand slam I have to my credit that I’ve thought little about. In fact, I’ve completed this feat several times, as far as I can recall. This “grand slam,” while not gaining me but a snippet of the acclaim I got from my wild turkey slam, was legitimate and what is significant about that is that I got the series of slams all right here in my home state.

What am I talking about? Catfish. I’ve been successful in landing the four species of catfish that live in Louisiana’s fresh waters – the flathead, blue, channel, and bullhead, and I’ve done it several times over.

If you fish at all within the waters of Louisiana, you have no doubt duplicated my feat; you’ve caught all four species at one time or other and you probably never even thought of the possibility that you gained a measure of notoriety by landing a Louisiana Grand Slam of catfish.

Let’s examine more closely the four species that make up the Bayou State Catfish Grand Slam.

FLATHEAD CATFISH

There is no way to pin down the absolutely best spot to catch a flathead catfish in Louisiana because they inhabit practically all of our lakes, rivers and larger streams. These are the fish mostly sought after by anglers bent on a night of “setting out hooks.” A trotline or several limb lines are baited with live bait, such as bream, small bullheads or goldfish, with a return trip the following morning to see what’s there. Finding a 40 pounder on your hook is not at all uncommon.

BLUE CATFISH

If you are looking for genuine heavyweights, blue catfish, especially those that inhabit our larger lakes and rivers, can grow to extreme sizes. Ancient records boast of blue catfish weighing in the 250-300 pound range although the Louisiana record, caught in the Mississippi River in 1997, tipped the scales at 105 pounds. Again, no doubt larger specimens have been taken on trotlines and set hooks.

Blue catfish can be caught on a variety of baits, from live or cut shad to big crawfish to stink baits containing tainted chicken blood or rancid cheese.

Blue cats are the primary target of commercial fishermen but are also sought by recreational anglers.

CHANNEL CATFISH

 When it comes to popularity, no catfish approaches the channel cat in popularity. These are the filets and small fiddlers you find on the platter at catfish restaurants all across the state. While these fish are generally pond raised, which controls their diet, wild caught channel catfish are also delicious on the table.

Around Louisiana, they are everywhere. Blindfold yourself, take a Louisiana map and jab a finger anywhere on the map and chances are, your digit is resting near a good spot to catch channel cats.

BULLHEAD CATFISH

While Louisiana keeps no records on bullheads, the largest ever caught and entered in the records weighed about 9 pounds and was caught in Michigan.

Those we caught as boys on Molido Creek down home weren’t called bullheads; they were “mud cats” to us. Perhaps it was that name that caused us to shy away from them when they ended up on the table.

Bullheads live in practically every lake, pond, creek or slow-moving bayou all over the state. They are easy to catch and when cleaned properly and soon after being caught, they can be rather tasty when fried up golden brown.

Completing a wild turkey Grand Slam is quite a feat. A Louisiana Catfish Grand Slam is not so bad itself.


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SPOTLIGHT: Kelly hits the right notes speaking to local LSU fans

BACK IN TOWN: New LSU football coach Brian Kelly dropped by Shreveport Tuesday night and recalled visiting as Notre Dame’s coach to successfully sign Evangel star Jerry Tillery,

By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

The only thing that could get area LSU fans to stop talking about Garth Brooks’ epic concert in Tiger Stadium Saturday night was a Tuesday evening visit by new head football coach Brian Kelly to Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux in Shreveport.

It was the first leg of Kelly’s tour which will take him across the state talking about LSU football.

Of course it isn’t really Kelly’s tour. The official name is Coaches Caravan ‘22 presented by the Tiger Athletic Foundation. But make no mistake, Kelly was the rock star Tuesday.

And music to the ears of the local audience, Kelly made clear he understands the importance of northwest Louisiana to the LSU football program.

“Our philosophy has got to be about pooling our base in the state of Louisiana,” Kelly said. “Not just south Louisiana. It can’t be (just) New Orleans. It can’t be (just) Baton Rouge. It’s got to be Shreveport. It’s got to be Monroe. It’s got to be the entire state. And that’s a focused effort and that’s my recruiting philosophy in Louisiana.”

It wasn’t his first time in Shreveport playing to a crowd, although when he was head coach at Notre Dame and was here recruiting Evangel’s Jerry Tillery, he played to a much smaller crowd. Kelly referenced Tillery, although not mentioning him by name, when speaking about the kind of student-athlete who will fit well in his program.

“It’s like anything else, they’ve got to fit the profile,” Kelly said. “And the profile for me and it has been for my entire career, I want young men who recognize the value of a degree and they want to play for championships. It’s that simple. Excellence both on and off the field. And they’re here.

“At the other school I was at, Evangel Christian had a great player that I took out of the state of Louisiana. They’re here. You’ve got to come up here and recruit them.”

Besides recruiting football players, Kelly also has experience recruiting coaches familiar with the state of Louisiana. The knowledge his newly-hired assistant coaches have has come in handy during Kelly’s first five months on the job.

“First of all, it was important that we hired coaches that were familiar with the state of Louisiana,” Kelly said. “Joe Sloan was at Ruston and Louisiana Tech for a number of years. He knows this north part of the state really, really well. That’s extremely helpful, obviously. To have a number of guys that have recruited in the state of Louisiana, that was a charge that I needed to make sure we had those coaches.”

And of course, there was talk about the quarterback battle, and where the battle is after spring practice.

“I’m surprised at an earlier event that it wasn’t the first question,” Kelly said. “You know, we’ve been transparent, right, with the kids. We said they would all get an opportunity, and they did.

“We brought in a transfer from Arizona State in Jayden Daniels and he upped the competition level, but I will tell you.Myles Brennan did a great job, Garret Nussmeyer, Walker Howard, all of them competed at a high level. We’re going to go into camp and after we’ve installed the offense, now we can start to move the offense toward their skill set and that’s when the separation will happen. You can never have enough competition at that position, and it should be fun for preseason camp.”

During the summer months, there are things that the quarterbacks can do to improve, and Kelly and his offensive coaching staff will continue to evaluate, but, according to Kelly, there will be no movement in terms of who the starter will be when the Tigers open the season on Sunday, Sept. 4 against Florida State in the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.

“I think this is about their strength, their conditioning level, their accountability level to each other,” Kelly said. “I think that continues to build. Their leadership. We want to continue to see them grow. Look, your quarterback, regardless, he’s got to be a leader, so they’ll continue to do that. We’ll observe those things. Look, quarterbacks are going to be throwing with receivers all the time, but I don’t think you really get to see, you know, where there’s a separation until you get into camp.”

The quarterback battle is a problem for another day for Kelly.

“Everything is great,” Kelly answered, when asked by a member of the media how things were going. “We won the spring game so we’re undefeated.”

Photo: by JERRY BYRD


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SPOTLIGHT:  Byrd’s Wells has a special ‘super power’

FRONT RUNNER:  Byrd senior distance star Trent Wells is always in, or near, the lead, although for years, he was often relegated to the back of the pack due to autism.

By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

Even before C.E. Byrd High School’s record-setting distance runner Trent Wells stepped foot on campus, he was accomplishing some amazing things in track and field. For example, four years ago as an eighth grader at Youree Drive Middle School, Wells ran 1600 meters in 4:57.03, breaking the Caddo Parish record.  

 As a Yellow Jacket, he has made running – and winning – look easy, but in reality, there have been many obstacles for the runner and his family to overcome.

Saturday, at Bernie Moore Stadium, Wells will don the purple and gold one more time, running in both the 1600 and 3200 at the 2022 LHSAA State Track and Field Championships.

 It will be Wells’ third time competing at the state meet. It would have been four had Covid not interrupted the 2020 outdoor season. 

Last spring, he made the podium in both the 1600 and 3200. His 9:48.22 was good enough for second in Class 5A. His 4:18.71 earned him a bronze medal. He was the only runner in the state to make the podium in both races. 

The obstacles started for the Wells family in Montgomery, Ala., when daycare workers complained about Trent. He was a troublemaker. He threw tantrums. Mr. and Mrs. Wells, who just wanted their preschool-aged son to be cared for properly, were frustrated too. 

 It seemed like it would be more of the same on Trent’s first day in elementary school. Due to military obligations, the family had moved to Dayton, Ohio. On Trent’s first day, Mrs. Linda Barr, their son’s first-grade teacher, called and asked Mr. Wells if Trent had ever been tested for autism, which — in education circles —  is a no-no for teachers. 

 Edward Wells, normally a quiet, mild-mannered man, was not happy.

 “If I’m being honest, initially I was a little upset because I felt it was accusatory, due to the issues we had with the caregivers in Montgomery,” he said. “I was also offended because, in my eyes, my son was perfect and he didn’t need any extra help. I was reluctant, but eventually I agreed to have him tested for autism.”

 Trent’s mother, Lea, had noticed their son was not like other children. Instead of enjoying a park, Trent was fascinated with the bark on the trees. Instead of racing cars, he would take the cars and make letters or numbers out of them. Around water, he didn’t want to swim. All he wanted to do was run his arm across the top of the water and watch to see how the motion of his arm would make waves in the water.

She kept journals about Trent’s actions and his interactions with other kids. These journals, doctors said, were better tools for them than nurses’ notes.

In the days after the diagnosis, it was a very emotional, lonely time for Lea Wells — lonely in the sense that nobody seemed to listen. 

“They wrote off Trent as being a boy who developed slower than girls,” she said.

 In 2012, Lea deployed to Qatar. Edward Wells looked for something to keep his kids busy to keep their minds off their mother’s deployment. He found a YMCA soccer team in Dayton.

Soccer moms told him how good his daughter, Laila, was. They said nothing of his son, who could often be found in goal, laughing hysterically at the opponents’ inability to stop the team’s star player.

Encouraged by the comments from the soccer moms, Edward Wells signed up his daughter for track and field. Trent came to practices, just along for the ride.

Laila’s track coach noticed the brother, who was standing around while the team was practicing.

“Mr. Wells, why don’t you let Trent participate in practice since he is out here anyway?” the coach asked.

Initially, he declined, but reconsidered, and decided to ask Trent.

Trent said no. Then, Dad offered his son a deal.

“Trent, just run in a few practices and do one meet. After that, you don’t have to run anymore.”

Then Trent made a decision which would change the trajectory of his life. He said “yes” to running.

For most parents of star athletes, their memories of their child’s first experience in sports are happy ones. Not for Edward Wells.

He remembers the other kids whispering and laughing at Trent as he attempted the drills. They laughed at his “intensity” during runs. 

Edward almost pulled his son out of track and field to protect him from the ridicule. Almost. 

Nothing about Trent Wells’ first race, a 5K in Dayton on Sept. 2, 2014, gave Edward any indication that his son was headed toward school records and a full scholarship to college at Savannah College of Art & Design, but the father was impressed all the same.

Gradually, Trent began impressing his coaches, his teammates, and his opponents. In his Byrd career, he’s earned a reputation as one of the state’s best, and will leave a legacy that has its own unique slant.

Acceptance and admiration has not been uniform. Like other students with exceptionalities, Wells has heard insults and laughs of the mean and close-minded, but he has never let it get the best of him.

“It’s a super power,” Trent said of his autism. “Not a weakness.”

The Yellow Jacket with super powers will not hear insults and laughs on Saturday night in Baton Rouge, only the roar of the crowd at Bernie Moore Track Stadium, watching him compete for a state championship – or two. 


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Calvary silences the doubters

Calvary Baptist made quite a few statements when it captured its fourth state softball championship in Broussard over the weekend.

One was that it doesn’t seem to matter in what class or division the Lady Cavaliers play. Saturday’s 8-4 victory over Opelousas Catholic School gave Calvary its second consecutive Division IV state championship. The Cavs also went back-to-back when they won the Class 2A title in 2016 and the Division III title in 2017. Next season, they will move back up to Division III.

The Cavs also showed they can win with offense and defense. Their quarterfinal victory over Central Catholic was a pitcher’s duel that went scoreless until the bottom of the seventh inning, when senior Kelsey Coburn put down a bunt that induced a two-base error to score pinch runner Maggie Moore from second base. Calvary eighth grader Kynzee Anderson, who went toe-to-toe with Central Catholic senior pitcher Hallie Crappell, gave up just three hits and struck out four in the complete-game shutout.

And the play of that game came on defense, when ninth grader Elana Franks made a spectacular, diving catch at the left-field wall in the top of the seventh inning to deny an extra-base hit that certainly would have changed the momentum of the game.

Then at the state tournament in Broussard, Anderson kept the opponents’ bats quiet and pitched out of a number of jams while the Calvary bats lit up St. Julien Park.

In Friday’s 7-1 victory over Riverside Academy, Franks went 4-for-4 with two RBI singles, seventh-grader Carlie Guile was 3-for-4 with two triples and two RBIs, seventh grader Mallory Carver went 2-for-4 with one RBI, Coburn put the Cavs on the board in the bottom of the first inning with an RBI single, and sophomore Mary Grace Woodle had an RBI double. Oh, and by the way, Anderson gave up just four hits and struck out six.

“Our bats were alive,” Calvary coach Tiffany Wood said after Friday’s win. “That was a good all-round game.”

So was Saturday’s victory. Anderson, who got out of a number of jams in innings 3-5, earned MVP honors by striking out 12 batters and giving up just six hits and three walks. And at the plate? Sophomore DJ Lynch went 2-for-5 with a three-run home run and an RBI single, sophomore Ramsey Walker was 2-for-3 with two doubles, and junior Tavia Leadon was 2-for-3 with a two-run homer.

All of the above are pretty loud statements. But the loudest, perhaps, is that the Cavs are for real.

“A lot of people doubted us,” Wood said after the championship game.

The Cavs were doubted because of their youth – this season, they started two seventh graders, two eighth graders, one freshman, three sophomores, one junior, and one senior. The above tells you they may be young in age, but they’re veterans on the softball field.

The Cavs were doubted because of their record – they went into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed with a 20-12 record. Opelousas Catholic went into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed with a 25-5 record. Lost on anyone who doubted Calvary was the fact that the majority of the Class 1-A Cavs’ regular season was against 5A teams – with six wins over those opponents.

“We play the toughest schedule in the state,” Calvary assistant coach Greg Frazier said immediately after the championship game. “A lot of people would have cratered. It made us even better.”

Looks like the doubters have been silenced.


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SPOTLIGHT:  Loyola, Webb primed for shots at state titles

WEBB GEM: Loyola’s Holden Webb will get one last shot at a state golf title.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

At 12:56 today, Loyola senior Holden Webb will tee it up for a pair of “one last chances” in the Division III state golf championships.

For Webb, it’s one more chance for the individual crown.

For Webb and his teammates, it’s a chance to get past a roadblock that has kept them from winning the school’s first state team title since 2012.

In both 2019 and 2021 (there was no tournament in 2020), the Flyers finished in second place to Ascension Episcopal (Lafayette). Although Eli Ortego, the state’s No. 1 player, is now at UL-Lafayette, Ascension Episcopal is back again to try to win another title.

But the Flyers have a player in five of the six top groups that will tee off today at Cane Row Golf Club in New Iberia. No other team has that many at the top of the pairings sheet.

“I think we can do it,” Webb said. “We’ve kind of been stuck by the team in Lafayette the last couple of years. But I think if we can execute (because) it’s all about showing up on game day.”

For Webb, who has signed to play collegiate golf at LSU, it would be the crowning achievement to his outstanding high school career.

He was the co-medalist at the regional event last week at Stonebridge as the Flyers staged a dominating performance. Loyola had a 294 total score as Webb and Charlie Bell each shot an even-par 72 and were joined by Jack Gilmer (74), Ross Alford (76) and Connor Cassano (77) as Loyola won by 22 strokes. Loyola won the district tournament two weeks ago by 61 shots.

“It’s special,” Webb said of this year’s team. “We’ve got a lot of good players this year and we’ve been practicing harder than in past years. I think we are going to have a really good shot this year. This is what I came here as a freshman to do.”

Webb didn’t waste any time in making an impact on the Flyer golf team. He finished second in the state tournament as a freshman. After no tournament was played the following year, he placed fifth at state in his junior season.

“I’ve just tried to improve every day,” he said. “Just grind it out, no matter what. The goal is to keep improving every day. I just try to put in the work and hope it pays off in the end.”

The son of former LSU golfer Craig Webb, he said there are areas of improvement he’d like to make before starting his college career.

“I feel like I’ve struggled a little bit with my ball striking off the tee, so I want to try to nail that down to where I’m hitting the ball where I want to,” he said. “But I generally feel pretty confident with my putting.”

Which means practice, practice and then a little more practice. “On a typical school day, we get out early so I can go hit a little bit and then go play, whether that’s nine holes or 18 holes,” Webb said. “On shorter days when I don’t get there until 3:15, I just do work on the range with chipping and putting.”

Though high school and college golf have a team aspect to it, ultimately it is an individual sport. That was the appeal to Webb when he ended his youth soccer career to concentrate on golf.

“My favorite thing I like about golf – and the reason I started playing – is that there is nobody else,” he said. “There’s are no highs like there are in golf and there are no lows like there are in golf. It’s all up to you.”

Photo by GRAHAM TRAWICK


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SPOTLIGHT:  Draft is thrill of a lifetime, but it’s only a start

LIFE ALTERING:  Loyola graduate Jon Alston, shown playing for Stanford,  found the NFL Draft is much like life, requiring the ability to adjust and develop.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

In his freshman religion class in high school at Loyola, Jon Alston had to write down his highest hopes for his life’s career. He wrote “NFL player” as his goal.

Nine years later, he was sitting at his grandmother’s house on Olive Street in Shreveport when that goal came true — he was chosen in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the then-St. Louis Rams.

“It’s such a big moment, not only for yourself but for your family who has watched you grow up playing football since you were a kid,” Alston says. “And now you have a life-changing opportunity. So you can’t really celebrate it by yourself. It’s good if it works out like you planned. Not so good if it doesn’t.”

In 2006, the draft was held over two days – three rounds on the first day and four on the second. The anticipation of waiting through the first day was tough enough for Alston, so he’s thankful he got picked before the first day was finished.

“You’re just sitting there and as they go by (with each pick), you have no idea where you are going,” he says. “That anticipation is tense. I knew I was going to be drafted, so I wasn’t really stressing on that, but I definitely didn’t want to wait around for that second day with all those people there.”

After an outstanding career at Stanford as a defensive end/linebacker – he had 10 quarterback sacks as a junior – Alston hit all of the usual post-college stops to prepare for the draft: East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl. NFL Combine. Then came the visits to meet with different clubs.

“I remember being on a plane a lot as soon as my senior season ended,” he says.

The Rams had met with him at the combine, but he wasn’t expecting St. Louis to take him.

“When I got called by the Rams, I remember thinking that was one of the last places I thought I’d go,” Alston says. “They told me ‘(head coach) Scott Linehan wants to talk to you’ and I didn’t even know who he was. I was like ‘Scott who?’”

“To be truthful, I really wanted to go in the second round to the (Oakland) Raiders,” he says. “But they took a better player – Thomas Howard.”

After spending a year with the Rams, Alston would play for the Raiders for three years and then a year with Tampa Bay before a series of concussions put an end to his career.

More than 15 years later, Alston has a different perspective of the draft.

“The draft is just a measurement of perceived potential.” he says. “That’s all it is. I don’t think a player should put any pressure on what happens in the draft. Have a five-year plan on what you want to be and how you want to get there. You don’t get to pick where you are going and that place might not be the right fit for you. You’re expected to succeed, but you don’t know what kind of politics within the team might be working against you that you don’t even know about.”

Alston was a three-year starter at Loyola and played just about everywhere for the Flyers – safety, linebacker, offensive tackle and running back, where he held the school record for rushing yards in a game (303) for 16 years. He was chosen as an All-State linebacker after 286 tackles in his junior and senior years.

The NFL Draft, he says, “is a lot like life. Getting in the right environment has a lot to do with your trajectory and how well you develop.”

Alston has certainly developed into a new career. He lives in Los Angeles and is an acclaimed writer, director and producer. His award-winning films include “Augustus” and “Red Butterfly.”

“I’ve been fortunate to be able to shift gears to another career that is also very competitive,” he says. “But my back story in sports really helps me stand out. Not a lot of people can transition from a lucrative, high-level occupation to the next.”


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Football spring training has sprung (maybe a leak)

They used to say there are only two seasons in the South – football and spring football – but if that’s the case, one of those is a season of rampant speculation, endless message board postings and over analysis of player development.

Come to think of it … both seasons are actually like that.

Most college spring trainings have come and gone and most high school spring trainings are about to begin. Both are necessary, at least to some degree. But spring games? Not so much.

For college football, the 15 days of practice are probably more important than ever with the influx of early enrolling high school seniors and transfer portal pickups. Gone are the days when you just went back out there three months after the season was over with everybody who didn’t have “Sr.” written by their name in the program.

The problem isn’t the 15 days of practice; it’s the 1 day of game.

Granted, it does provide excitement for the fans, who haven’t had much to cheer about since a bowl game named for a fruit or a concept. Recruiting season fills the void for about 20 minutes, but fans love to turn these three spring game hours into an entire summer of speculation as to who might start at deep snapper.

To make matters worse, some coaches insist on these goofy five-points-for-solo-tackle spring games in which the offense “plays” the defense. There is no one worse at this than new LSU coach Brian Kelly, who has brought an idea that never caught on at Notre Dame down to LSU.

Apparently, the LSU offense covered the spread against the defense by winning 59-31 in a game so riveting that they ended it midway through the fourth quarter.

Here is the list of things you need to know about a spring game:

  1. Did anyone get hurt?
  2. See above.

Don’t try to read anything into a spring game. If a running back has a good quarter, it doesn’t mean he’s ready to start. Perhaps he stunk in all 15 practices, which is much more important in coaches’ evaluations.

As for high school spring training, there has been a movement that last few years to eliminate it. It wouldn’t be the worst idea except for this – it might be better to find out who really wants to play in the spring than having them go through the entire summer and then after the third August practice, he decides he’d rather be playing Fortnite. It’s better for him and better for the team to find that out in May.

High school spring training has been stripped down to almost nothing anyway. It’s not like anybody needs time to install the Houston Veer. Most offensive development can be done with 7-on-7 games these days; not a whole lot of bull-in-the-ring drills are being run.

Like Blockbuster, spring training could go away and nobody would miss it. Except the guy who wants to post his thoughts on the four-deep depth chart.


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