WATSON – It was the kind of example Live Oak first-year baseball coach Jesse Cassard deems essential in developing a culture of leadership within his program.
Cassard said he received a call from returning varsity players Kody Guidry and Lane Hutchinson last Thursday evening, the two upperclassmen having already completed play in a showcase event with the Louisiana Knights in Atlanta, wanting to join their high school teammates in a tournament a day later.
“They’re hungry,” Cassard said. “They wanted to play. Normally it would have been, ‘I’ve been gone for a week. I’m tired’. They played five more games. It’s important for those guys to play in front of their coach.”
By all accounts Cassard believes his first summer with Live Oak’s program has been a success, one that took on more of a grass-roots approach.
Instead of keeping most of his varsity players together and participating in the area Metro League, Cassard allowed such players as Rhett Rosevear, Smith, Hutchinson, Hayden Staley, Ethan Prescott and Cameron Dickerson to play with elite select teams such as the Louisiana Knights and Chaos and play in tournaments and showcase events, both statewide and regionally.
Cassard said that Jake Burchfield recently played with Team Louisiana in Atlanta, while Blaize Priester has played with a New Orleans-based travel team.
That allowed Cassard’s first-year pitching coach, Craig Castello, to work exclusively with a 15-member Live Oak-based team – predominately made up of freshmen or sophomores – who have participated in a variety of 16U tournaments, a schedule that ends this week in a 14-team event at Nicholls State.
There’s been a meteoric turnaround since the latter part of May that has Cassard ecstatic about the prospects of his program’s future.
“We went into this thing thinking there may not be many starters, but that’s changed,” Cassard said. “These guys have proven they can play. I’m excited. We’ve got some good players.”
Especially a sophomore class of approximately 13 players that has caught Cassard’s eye.
“It’s one of the strongest groups I’ve ever had,” he said. “We really have the total package of players. We’ve got guys on the mound I feel will be Division I pitchers. They’re going to get a lot of attention.”
To illustrate his team’s growth Cassard points to their improvement over a six-week stretch of tournament play at Southern Mississippi, Nicholls State, UL-Lafayette, Southeastern Louisiana and the University of New Orleans.
“We went from the first weekend in June when they started and were 0-4. We got 10-run ruled,” Cassard said. “The last three weekends we’ve played in a championship game two of the last three weekends in tournament ball. The weekend we didn’t play in a championship game was probably our best played weekend.
“I think the last three weekends combined we’re 14-4,” Cassard said. “The growth is tremendous, the strength from the weight room is noticeable. The guys know what’s expected now and we’re not going to let up. That the biggest thing we wanted to get out of the summer. We have found some guys that can play.”
Cassard has been able to get an occasional look at his entire roster on the same field, including senior Sal Palermo, when his veteran players that didn’t have commitments to their respective travel teams and joined forces with Live Oak’s younger group of players.
“There were a couple of times where we were pretty close to a full team,” he said. “Every chance they (veterans) got, they wanted to play. This has been one of the best summers as far as growth. We’ll give them 2 ½ weeks off and start our offseason again. I’m excited about getting after it in August.”