Destrehan poured out of its dugout to engulf Nathan Rhodes, whose bat delivered the Wildcats into round two of the Class 5A playoffs — and away from an offseason of regret.
Rhodes’ RBI single scored T.J. Thomas in the bottom of the 11th inning of Destrehan’s first round game against visiting Ouachita Parish, netting the Wildcats a 3-2 victory that seemed to have all but slipped away a few innings earlier and threatened to leave Destrehan victims of a first round upset at home for the third consecutive season.
“We just didn’t want it to happen again,” said an elated Rhodes.
The 10th seeded Wildcats will face No. 26 St. Amant in round two. The playoff format moves to a best two of three series after round one.
No. 10 seeded Destrehan (22-9) led 2-0 with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, but a hit batter paired with two critical fielding errors gave No. 23 Ouachita the boost it needed to tie the game 2-2 and eventually force extra innings.
“Everyone was down after the seventh, but we kept fighting and fighting,” Rhodes said. “Stuff wasn’t going our way all the way through, until the end where it finally did.”
Thomas got the team going with a bunt for a single to start the bottom of the 11th. Max Jacob followed with a bloop single that dropped over the head of the second baseman.
That opened the door for Rhodes, who pushed a single through to left, brought Thomas home and ignited a celebration.
In Rhodes’ previous at-bat, he hit a hot shot to centerfield that he thought had a chance to do damage. This time, he did plenty.
“We thought he was starting to wear down,” Rhodes said of Ouachita’s Zach Shaw. “He had trouble commanding his pitches outside of the fastball by that point … I was hunting a fastball and hoped for the best.”
Destrehan coach Chris Mire said Rhodes was due to break through in a clutch spot.
“He’s been knocking on the door all year of getting that big hit for us,” Mire said. “He finally got one through … I’m happy for him.”
Ouachita hung tough behind the pitching of Zach Vining and Zach Shaw, the latter of whom pitched the final 6.1 innings of the day and kept the Wildcats off balance throughout.
But Destrehan had a strong crew of its own on the mound, with Josh MacCord, Avery Schexnaydre and Thomas combining for an 11 inning one-hitter, striking out 14 along the way.
While Shaw is the Lions’ ace, Ouachita elected to go with Vining to start, with the plan to bring Shaw in for the game’s second half.
“We heard (Shaw) was really good, so we were a little surprised we didn’t get him to start… but I think they made a great decision. We had to keep throwing up zeros and thankfully, our guys were up to the challenge,” Mire said.
It kept Destrehan from finding its offensive footing, but the Wildcats were able to push one across against each pitcher in regulation. The first came on Max Jacob’s sacrifice fly in the first inning, scoring Avery Schexnaydre. The second came when Brock Mire scored on a wild pitch in the fifth inning.
With the bottom of the order up for Ouachita in the top of the seventh inning, Destrehan found itself in a bit of trouble after the Lions got two runners on with one out via an error and a hit batter.
Schexnaydre struck out the next batter for the second out, bringing Austin Pennington to the plate for one last Lions shot. Pennington hit a ground ball, but an errant throw to first brought Grayson Myles and Brandon Kimes home to tie the game.
That spurred Mire to bring in Thomas, who had struggled in his last start against Hahnville, but served as the team’s ace on the mound all season. He followed with near perfection from there, pitching 4.1 hitless innings, striking out eight and walking one.
“I knew my guys and my coach had faith and trust in me,” Thomas said. “I just wanted to go out there and not let them down.”
Offensively, though, Mire and his players admitted there was a mental fog following the seventh, particularly after the last two years of tough first round defeats.
“They knew what happened to us the past two years, then we’re right there and it doesn’t happen,” Mire said. “So immediately, we were like, ‘no, we can’t go there. We can’t let that creep in mentally.’
“For the first couple of innings after that, I think we were shellshocked and thinking about how close we were. We had to get past that. As we got deeper into it, they forgot about that play and started playing the game again.”
The Wildcats wouldn’t be denied, and those first round exits are now far into the rearview mirror.
“It’s a monkey off our back,” Mire said.