Class 3A semifinals: Berwick (27-8) vs. Sterlington (32-3), 7:30 p.m., McMurry Park, Sulphur
Last year's trip to Sulphur went off without a hitch for the Sterlington Panthers, who left McMurry Park with their first state championship in school history.
Taking a step up in classification to Class 3A, Sterlington sets out to duplicate last year's feat. Standing in the top-seeded SHS Panthers (32-3) way at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA State Tournament are the No. 4 Berwick Panthers (27-8). Starting time for the semifinal contest is 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on FM 92.3 with the dynamic duo of Jimmy Guthrie and Jason Thompson calling the action.
No. 3 Iota (32-6) and No. 2 Brusly (27-12) square off in Thursday's first semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Both 3A semifinals will be played on Field No. 41.
Thursday's winners will play for the state championship Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on Field No. 40.
Winners of 16 of its last 17 games, Berwick has played only one seven-inning game in the postseason. Despite the loss of six starters from last year's state semifinalist outfit, coach Brandon Bravata's Panthers have returned to Sulphur by outscoring their five playoff foes by a collective margin of 59-6.
"I have talked to a couple of people who said Berwick may be the best team down there," Sterlington coach Mark Sims said. "I know they can hit, and they're good on the mound. They've been scoring a lot of runs."
Berwick's postseason run includes wins over Peabody (12-0) and series sweeps of Jennings (10-0, 13-1) and Eunice (12-2, 12-3).
Shortstop/pitcher Kyle Pitre is batting .490 with two home runs, 36 RBIs and 16 stolen bases to lead the St. Mary's Parish Panthers offensively. Reid Wiley (.466, 23 RBIs) and senior catcher Lucas Hatch (.426, 4 HR, 41 RBI) are also having big seasons at the plate for Berwick, which brings a lofty .374 team batting average into the State Tournament.
Mitchell Sanford (6-1, 0.77 ERA) and Pitre (8-3, 2.74) are Berwick's primary starters on the mound.
Sterlington, meanwhile, brings a 15-game winning streak into the tournament.
In the postseason, the SHS Panthers have reeled off wins over Wossman (11-0), Pine Prairie (3-0, 6-0) and Erath (11-1, 6-3).
Junior right-hander Trey Rugg and senior left-hander Adam Tubbs both logged consecutive complete game victories in the past two playoff series.
Senior second baseman Jarrett McDonald, sophomore right fielder Davis Johnson, senior center fielder Brooks Rushworth and junior left fielder Luke Denman are among Sterlington's offensive leaders.
Sims says all four teams in the 3A bracket are capable of winning it all.
"Everybody you play is going to be good when you get to this point," Sims said. "You have to play every game like it's the championship game. All four teams are pretty much equal.
"The great thing about baseball is you never know what is going to happen. Each year is different. Look at 4A, you have the No. 31 seed (Westgate) in there."
At this time of the year, it comes down to who gets hot at the right time.
"That's why you play the games," Sims said. "The best team doesn't always win. In the early years at West Monroe, we were the best team on the field a lot of times, and just didn't win. I remember playing Barbe all those times, and I thought we had the better team.
"You have to play 14 innings, 42 outs to the best of your ability. I don't think you are going to catch any of the four teams in our bracket looking ahead. The team that makes the fewest mistakes is going to win. That's the way baseball works. We have to throw strikes, put the ball in play and capitalize if the other team makes a mistake."