Overhearing Dalton Dopson's postgame interview, Sterlington coach Mark Sims couldn't resist the opportunity to needle his senior third baseman.
Dopson's three-run home run staked the Panthers to a 3-0 first-inning lead on their way to an 8-1 Game 1 victory over Loreauville on Friday night. The best-of-three quarterfinal series concludes Saturday at Panther Park, with Game 2 set for 11 a.m. Game 3 (if necessary) will follow.
Predictably, the mood in the third base dugout was upbeat following Game 1.
"That ball's a popup if the wind doesn't catch it," Sims joked.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Dopson shot back.
On a rare day when the wind was blowing out in Panther Park, Dopson and Davis Johnson sent home runs over the left field wall.
"(Hitting coach Bucky Chandler) and I kept saying a popup had a chance today," Sims said.
Still, Sims had to concede that Dopson's blast wasn't wind-aided.
"Dalton hit that one a long way," Sims said. "It was legit."
Dopson, the Panthers' cleanup hitter, stepped to the plate with runners at second and third and nobody out in the bottom of the first.
"He came first-pitch changeup, and I was a little in front of it," Dopson said. "Then he threw a fastball high around my eyes. Then he came with a fastball up and in, and I was able to get a good swing on it."
Dopson wasn't complaining about the opportunity to bat with the wind at his back, especially after hitting into a strong wind in last weekend's series against North Caddo.
"The wind usually blows in here. You have to take advantage when it does blow out," Dopson said.
Friday's victory moved the Panthers within a game of advancing to the State Tournament in Sulphur. Dopson and his senior classmates have been tantalizingly close before, reaching the quarterfinal round in 2014 and 2015.
"We've been to the quarterfinals twice and last year we made the second round," Dopson said. "I would be lying if I said it wasn't on our mind."
Sterlington's postgame celebration was brief and subdued Friday night, much like a regular season game. Memories of last year's second round series at St. Charles in which Sterlington won Game 1 before dropping Games 2 and 3, are still fresh on the Panther's minds. Nobody mentioned it, but they didn't have to.
Sterlington will send senior right-hander Spencer Davis to the mound for Game 2. Regardless of the outcome of today's game(s), this will be the seniors' final time to take the field at Panther Park. Dopson has no desire to play a double header.
"Spencer and (Game 1 winner Trey) Rugg have been our guys all year," Dopson said. "Spencer's coming off of a no-hitter. He's pitching with a chip on his shoulder. I have no doubt, he's going to get it done."
DENMAN RESPONDS: Drawing his first start in nearly a month, Luke Denman was inserted into the starting lineup in left field. Batting from the No. 8 spot, Denman went 2-for-3 with a walk, two RBI and two stolen bases.
STREAKS STRETCHED: Sterlington has now won eight straight with its last loss coming at the hands of District 2-2A rival Ouachita Christian on Thursday, April 13. ... Jarrett McDonald has reached base in all 35 of the Panthers' games after drawing two walks against Loreauville.
STREAK ENDS: Loreauville had its six-game winning streak snapped. The Tigers' most recent previous loss came to Class 4A quarterfinalist Carencro (10-3) on April 7. ... Brett Viator's two-out, RBI double in the fifth inning ended the Panthers' streak of 21.2 scoreless postseason innings.