HAUGHTON — Forty-two down; 63 to go.
West Monroe head coach Ross Blankenship said his squad is playing its best baseball of the year. There is no better time.
Monday, the surging Rebels scored an 8-0 shutout of Haughton in the second round of Class 5A playoff action and a berth in the state tournament in New Orleans.
The dogpile of red, white and blue in the center of the Buccaneers’ field told the story.
“We hadn’t made it to the state tournament since freshman year,” senior Cade Stone said. “This is a group — loaded with seniors — we think we can go down there and make something happen.”
Through a pair of playoff games, the ninth-seeded Rebels haven’t committed an error and have outscored the competition 20-3.
“We played 42 flawless outs in the playoffs,” Blankenship said. “I’m so proud; it couldn’t happen to a better group of kids.”
Rebels starter Taka High, a ULM signee, contributed 18 of those outs. Boosted by a 4-0 lead before he ever took the mound, the lefty allowed just five hits and struck out four in six innings.
“Everything,” Blankenship said about what worked for High on Monday. “He looked good. He started in the first round and has been nothing but outstanding.”
Dustin Mitchell added a solo home run in the fifth to give West Monroe a 5-0 lead. The Rebels’ 7-9 hitters, led by Nick Schexnaider (2-for-4, 2 RBIs), collected five hits and scored the Rebels’ final three runs.
Logan Murry shut the door on Haughton with a perfect seventh as the Rebels earned a date with top-seeded Barbe in Friday’s quarterfinals at Tulane University.
Monday’s loss put a cap on a roller-coaster season for the Buccaneers, who started the season 4-12.
“Our guys battled back,” Haughton coach Glenn Maynor said. “We had a heck of a season. We saved our season. Winning in the first round and hosting a second-round game – it exceeded my expectations.”
Two batters into the game, Stone, an LSU signee, sent a Josh Walker pitch over the center-field wall to give the Rebels the early lead.
“We’ve been known to jump out early this year,” Blankenship said. “Anytime we’ve had a coin flip, I almost want to take visitors because we can get the game going with the front half of our lineup. It was big to get that lead, because we could gamble and play aggressive.”
The blast seemed to startle the home team.
The Rebels rattled off three straight hits before Haughton committed a two-out error that allowed two runs to score and pushed West Monroe to a four-run advantage.
“When you give up a number early, you have to play for the big inning,” Maynor said. “You can’t play small ball. (West Monroe) is talented. They have an LSU signee, a Southern Miss signee. We have (Bossier Parish Community College) looking at a kid.
“Not to say we couldn’t have won, but the better team won today.”