WATSON -- Every once in a while, the unexpected has to become the necessary in sports.
Like when an under-the-radar senior pitcher turns in one of the best performances of his career in a game he wasn’t supposed to start or a cleanup man lost in the shuffle at times makes an opponent’s strategy backfire in a key situation.
Live Oak rode those two elements and a tidy finish from its closer to down Zachary 5-2 on Saturday, the Eagles’ second win in a row and the Broncos’ first setback in District 4-5A play this spring.
Brendon Baker was spectacular in an unexpected start, Garrett Barrilleaux followed an intentional walk to Preston Faulkner with a clutch two-out, two-run double and Bailey Simoneaux slammed the door by throwing nothing but strikes before inducing a comebacker that turned into a game-ending double play in the intense victory.
The Eagles (20-11, 5-3) never trailed against a Zachary team has been in the top 10 of the LHSAA unofficial power rankings all season and broke through for a win that bolsters their playoff seeding with a week left in the regular season.
Sparked by Barrilleaux’s first RBI hit of the day and Nick Cacioppo’s two-out RBI single, Live Oak grabbed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st inning and that seemed to put Baker in an immediate comfort zone.
“I knew Zachary could hit the ball, so I came after them with first-pitch strikes and (pitching coach Dale Sizemore) called good game from there,” Baker said.
There was a two-pronged underlying back story to Baker’s outing.
1. He threw in relief vs. Zachary on April 4, and like the rest of his teammates that day, things didn’t go well.
2. Cacioppo was slated to make the start on the mound on senior day, but lingering soreness prevented that, prompting Eagles’ coach Greg Briggs to turn to the big senior right-hander instead.
“Brendon has been more of a reliever for us in the past, but with Nick not able to go, the next option was Baker,” Briggs said. “That’s not a bad option, but they’ve seen him before and he’s been more comfortable coming out of the pen.
“He did a good job of getting ahead of a lot of hitters and he had some offspeed working for him. We did a good job on defense helping him out and he really battled out there.”
For the Eagles to prevail required some of the same tenacity in the batter’s box that Baker took the mound.
That began in the 1st inning when Rhett Rosevear shanked a one-out single to left field and Faulkner pumped a second hit in a row to center field against Zachary starter Robert Burke.
Barrilleaux punched an RBI base hit to left field on a 2-and-0 offering and after courtesy runner Cameron Dickerson was thrown out at the plate on an infield chopper, Cacioppo added to the inning when he laced a single to right field to plate Barrilleaux.
Baker steamed through the first 2 innings unscathed but created trouble for himself when he hit the first two batters of the 3rd – the Broncos’ 8- and 9-hole hitters.
Speedy Keilon Brown bunted those two runners up and Zachary executed its way back to a 2-2 tie on an RBI ground ball and Grant Quinn’s two-out single.
Live Oak shortstop Ryan Morris helped Baker out by derailing more potential trouble when on Anthony Fidanza’s chopper that scored Collin Cranford, Morris threw to third base for the second out.
Dangerous Joey Blanchard rolled out to Morris to end the 3rd inning and the Broncos (20-9, 6-1) went in order the next two innings.
The Eagles regained a 3-2 edge in the bottom of the frame when Lane Hutchinson got hit with a 2-and-2 Burke offering, stole second and raced home when Cranford, the Zachary shortstop, misplayed Landon Roberts’ two-out roller.
“That was just huge because it helped Brendon out and helped us keep positive energy,” Barrilleaux said.
Pitching with the lead, Baker remained aggressive and retired eight in a row in one stretch until Quinn rammed a one-out double that one-hopped the fence in center field in the 6th inning.
After retiring Blanchard on a fly ball, Baker walked Alex Milazzo and battled Tyler Jackson to a full count before blazing a nasty at-the-knees third-strike fastball by him looking to squash the threat.
“All year long, I’ve gained experience by pitching in those situations, so I didn’t try to overdo it,” Baker said. “I just focused on getting out of that inning to give our guys a chance to swing. I was pumped up and went to the dugout and told everybody to score some runs.”
His teammates obliged.
After Burke got the first out, Morris smoked a double to left-center field, the last of his three hits. Rosevear popped out to shallow left field for the second out against submarining reliever Rhett Hebert and Broncos’ coach Jacob Fisher opted to follow a strategy a lot of coaches have all season and intentionally walked Faulkner.
Hebert snapped off two strikes to start the at-bat against Barrilleaux, whose two previous two trips to the plate resulted in third outs of an inning with a runner in scoring position – the 4th inning when he sent a missile headed toward left field that Blanchard leapt and snared at third base.
Unfazed, Barrilleaux turned the next Hebert offering around and whipped a double into the right-field corner to score Morris and Dickerson for the three-run cushion.
“I didn’t even realize Zachary walked Preston because I was turned around in the on-deck circle,” Barrilleaux said. “When I realized it, I was just thinking ‘Go up there with a runner on third and get the job done.’ You’ve just got to trust yourself. He threw two curve balls or sliders for strikes to get ahead of me, so I was expecting another one. That’s what he threw and I was ready and put a good swing on it.”
Added Briggs, “That took the wind out of them. To be able to score those extra runs was huge in that situation.”
Not that Zachary was quite finished.
Two days after twice rallying late to catch and then beat Denham Springs High 4-3, the Broncos created a glimmer of hope when Hebert hustled to first base on Morris’ one-out throwing error to flip the lineup back to the top.
Briggs brought in Simoneaux, a tough-luck 1-0 loser to DSHS four days earlier, and he responded by pouncing in front of Brown 0-and-2. Brown fouled a pitch off and then tapped back to the Simoneaux, who gobbled up the ball cleanly, spun and made a perfect throw to Morris, who finished the game with a strike to Sal Palermo in plenty of time to get Brown. The Eagles mobbed Simoneaux in the middle of the diamond, a fitting finish to a game that had a postseason feel.
As dramatic as the final swing was, Barrilleaux was quick to praise Baker for his gritty performance.
“Brendon been under the radar, but he came out (Saturday) and did his job and got it done,” Barrilleaux said.
“This is a time to get on a good streak for the playoffs and keep it going, so beating a great team like that is huge for us.”
The Eagles look to build on their momentum Tuesday when they host Scotlandville (21-8, 1-7) at 5 p.m.
LIVE OAK 5, ZACHARY 2
Zachary 002 000 0 -- 2 3 2
Live Oak 201 002 x -- 5 8 2
Robert Burke, Rhett Hebert (6) and Alex Milazzo; Brendon Baker, Bailey Simoneaux (7) and Preston Faulkner. W -- Baker (3-1). L -- Burke. Sv. -- Simoneaux (3). 2B: Zachary -- Grant Quinn; Live Oak -- Ryan Morris, Garrett Barrilleaux. Records: Zachary 20-9, 6-1 District 4-5A; Live Oak 20-11, 5-3. Up next: Scotlandville at Live Oak, 5 p.m. Tuesday; Central at Zachary, 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Randy Rosetta is Sports Editor of The Livingston Parish News.
You can reach him at (225) 610.5507 or RandyR@LivingstonParishNews.com.
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