Former high school foes face off in SEC finale

When LSU faced off against Mississippi State in the final regular season SEC series last week, two former high school foes found themselves on opposite sides of the diamond once again.

LSU’s Trey Watkins, who starred at Destrehan, scored a run and knocked in a run for the Tigers during the three-game series. Former Hahnville catcher turned MSU catcher Wes Thigpen went 4-for-9 and knocked in two runs for the Bulldogs.

LSU ended up winning the series 2-1.

Thigpen was a three-year starter as a catcher and first baseman at Hahnville. During his senior season in 2007, Thigpen hit .417 and drove in 47 runs with 23 extra-base hits. Those numbers drew the attention of some smaller colleges, but Thigpen always dreamed of playing in the SEC, according to Hahnville head baseball coach Kade Rogers.

“He had an offer from Southeastern, but he wanted to play in the SEC, so he went to Meridian Community College so that he would get a chance later in his career,” he said.

There, Thigpen batted .371 with 66 hits, including 15 doubles, two triples and 11 home runs. He started 54 of 58 games at catcher for the Eagles in 2009. Mississippi State came calling after that.

As a Bulldog this season, Thigpen hit .225 and knocked in 17 runs.

“He told me that at first playing in the SEC was tough for him because of the quality of pitching in the league, but he has made  some great adjustments and has been playing really well,” Rogers said.

That Thigpen has excelled in the SEC is not a surprise to Rogers, who said he always knew the catcher was a special player.

“When he was at Hahnville, he controlled everything we did from catcher, and I remember one game against Holy Cross where he threw out six guys,” Rogers said. “He deserves everything that he has gotten because he works hard and always does the right thing.

“I couldn’t be any happier for him.”

Watkins’ route to the SEC was more assured.

He wasn’t only fast at DHS, but he had power, hitting 13 home runs his senior season in 2008. That is still a school record.

“When he was coming out of high school, folks were thrilled to have him,” Destrehan head coach Marty Luquet said. “I talked to (LSU head baseball coach) Paul (Mainieri) and he was so loaded in the outfield when Trey graduated that he said it would be unfair to sign him and not play him his first year. So Trey went to LSU-Eunice for a year.”

At LSU-E, Watkins hit .418 with six home runs, 71 RBIs and 26 doubles. He set a school record by stealing 58 bases. He also broke LSU-E single-season records in walks (49) and runs scored (95).

When Watkins finally got his chance at LSU this season, he was on pace to threaten LSU’s runs scored record, which is 92.

“He had 35 runs in 25 games, and if you stretch that over a season he was on pace for around 90,” Luquet said.

But Watkins will have to wait another year to try for that record. He suffered a wrist injury on April 2 while diving for a foul ball, just 25 games into the season. He was able to return on May 13.

Watkins was hitting over .300 when he was injured, and has struggled some since returning with his average dropping to .271. But Luquet said he just needs time to get back into the swing of things.

“It’s just going to take some time for him to get back, but he was the best leadoff hitter I’ve ever coached and he has a chance to be the best leadoff hitter LSU’s ever had,” Luquet said. “Everyone at Destrehan is quite proud of him.”

Thigpen’s season is over after Mississippi State failed to qualify for the SEC tournament, but Watkins and the rest of the Tigers still have a chance at an SEC tourney championship.

The tournament began Wednesday and continues throughout the week.

 

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