Opening day for high school baseball in Louisiana has arrived and with it should come some interesting district races.
District 1-5A was already competitive last year with the district sending Airline, Byrd, Captain Shreve and Haughton to the playoffs. This year, Evangel, a state semifinalist from a year ago, is part of the district.
“Evangel is new to the district and they’re always good,” Airline coach Toby Todd said. “It’s a really tough district. Byrd’s going to be good again. Shreve’s got a number of guys returning. Southwood has the (Zach) Dare kid back.”
Todd’s Vikings figure to be plenty good this season themselves. They return All-City pitcher Kyle Backofen (6-1, 2.15), a ULM signee, third baseman Peyton Davis, a Northwestern State commitment, all three starting outfielders from last season (left fielder Jarrett Bamburg, center fielder Cameron Taylor and right fielder Hayden Waxley) and catcher Adam Armstrong.
Airline opens the season today at Benton.
The Benton Tigers made the Class 4A quarterfinals a year ago. They also have one of the area’s top returning pitching tandems in Jackson Rutledge and Tanner Craft. Rutledge signed with the Arkansas Razorbacks in the fall. As a junior, Rutledge was 6-2 with a 2.05 ERA. Craft was a first-team All-City selection after going 7-1, with a 1.96 ERA.
Another playoff team from Bossier Parish last season was the Haughton High School Buccaneers.
While the Buccaneers defeated Parkway, 6-2, in their jamboree, coach Glenn Maynor thinks his team can play better than it has shown in early scrimmages.
“We’ve got a veteran team,” Maynor said.
Indeed, Haughton returns its No. 1 pitcher in Triston Karmack (8-1, 1.97). Karmack is an LSU-Eunice signee. Other top returnees for Haughton include shortstop Tyler Davis, center fielder Jonathon Plant and third baseman Kirkland Seals.
Haughton figures to be better this season, but so does District 1-5A.
“It’s not like the old days when you had three wins (in some series) before you played a game,” Maynor said.
Across the Red River in Shreveport, Byrd returns several key players from last season’s Class 5A quarterfinals team. Outfielder Steele Netterville was an All-City selection after hitting .360 and scoring 30 runs while driving in 31 runs. Catcher Trent Touchet was a second-team All-City selection. Both are back for the Yellow Jackets
Captain Shreve has several players back from its playoff team, including infielder-pitcher Justin Skeesick. He signed with Louisiana Tech in November.
Perhaps the biggest story in Shreveport high school baseball will be how Evangel fares in Class 5A after reaching the state semifinals in Class 3A last season.
“Very challenging,” Evangel coach Tim Hulett said. “We graduated 10 seniors last year. I wouldn’t say we’re a young team, but we’re limited as far as experience on the field.”
Shortstop-pitcher Hunter Shaw and second baseman Collin Beckermeyer give the Eagles some experience up the middle. Center fielder Ryan Usie also has seen previous playing time.
The key for Evangel’s success in the jump up may be on the mound.
“I think the biggest difference for us is going to be depth of pitching,” Hulett said. “We’ve always been able to compete at the lower levels. But when you get to 5A competition all the time, everybody could knock you off on any night. I think the depth of pitching will be the tell-tale sign of how we compete this year.”
In the area, North DeSoto figures to have another strong club. The Griffins return All-Area Player of the Year Alex Boone. He hit .435 with two home runs and 31 RBIs. All-Area outfielder Hunter Speights (.360, two homers, 37 RBIs) also returns.
“It has the potential to be special,” North DeSoto coach Bo Odom said of his team’s season, which begins Monday with a home game against Parkway. “We’re not a young team. We’ve got nine juniors and seniors. We’ve got seven seniors and that’s the most we’ve had since the 2013 team.”
The All-Area Pitcher of the Year from last season was also an underclassman in Lakeside’s Cameron Gray. He was 5-2 with a 1.09 ERA.
No area team has as much to live up to as Florien. The Black Cats are the defending Class B state champions.