Benton coach J.D. Stephens said he kept hearing the same thing about quarterfinals opponent St. Michael – the Baton Rouge-based club can hit the ball.
That’s exactly what the Class 4A No. 5 seed Warriors did Monday en route to an 11-0, five-inning win at No. 4 Benton.
St. Michael (24-9) struck for 10 runs in the first two innings and will make their first state baseball tournament appearance since 2011.
St. Michael coach Johnny Bernhard thought Benton starting pitcher Aaron Henigan – who allowed the 10 runs (eight earned) on 10 hits in 1 2/3 innings – didn’t throw poorly, but the Warriors’ bats just hit the ball.
“The Henigan kid is a tough pitcher, we just felt like we executed,” Bernhard said. “We’ve got 12 seniors, seven in the starting lineup.
“We came out and were prepared, and we got it done. Our offense has been strong all season long along with our pitching. It’s just been getting our defense to do its part, and we turned (two) double plays today.”
After Zach Harris singled in a run in the top of the first, Wade Broussard highlighted the inning with a two-run single for a 3-0 lead.
The Warriors dumped seven runs in the second inning, including four consecutive at-bats that produced runs. Christopher Reid had an RBI double followed by an Austin Edens two-RBI double, a John Thomas Maudlin RBI triple and a Harris RBI groundout.
Broussard capped the inning with a two-run home run with two outs to push the lead to 10-0. Broussard (2-for-3, four RBIs, one run scored), Harris (two RBIs) and Edens (two RBIs and two runs scored) led a Warriors offense in which eight players combined for 12 hits.
“Tip your hat to St. Michael, they came out and swung early,” Stephens said. “Henigan is going to go out on a loss, but my goodness, the career he’s had. He’ll be a three-time All-Star and has done a phenomenal job – and he won’t be defined by one outing.
“Shaffer did a great job in his (relief) role. If you can coach in hindsight and see what a kid does – (Shaffer) did a great job. But call me crazy, the stuff Henigan has done for three years … and if I had to do it all over again with a blank slate – Henigan goes back out there again. They are our 1A and 1B guys.”
Henigan entered Monday’s game with a 9-1 record and a 1.61 ERA.
Shaffer allowed one run in three relief innings while striking out five.
Benton’s bats couldn’t come through with timely hits as the Tigers stranded seven runners, including having the bases loaded in the first and third innings.
St. Michael pitcher Dylan McElroy surrendered just two hits and two walks in the five-inning outing.
He recorded one of his six strikeouts to end the first inning with three Tigers on base, and the Warriors came through with one of their two double plays in the third inning with the bases loaded.
Shaffer and Wade Grubbs collected Benton’s only hits.
Six Benton seniors made their second straight quarterfinals appearance, but the Tigers couldn’t end their streak without a state tournament appearance (last trip in 2007).
“It’s been fun playing with these guys the last four years,” Shaffer said. “You can’t match the team chemistry we had.
“You won’t find a closer knit group of guys. The six seniors have been through it all, and it’s a tough way to end the year, but after all the hard work we put in, we don’t regret anything.”
Shaffer will be a dual player at Northwestern State while Henigan will pitch for NCAA Division III UT-Tyler.