Hahnville High School-based Otto Candies has made state tournament runs before during American Legion season. But while Otto Candies has come close to winning the crown a number of times — at one point, the team placed second, second and third in state over a three year span — it has never quite captured that top spot.
This could be the year that happens. Fresh off of capturing the Southeast Regional championship last week, Otto Candies returns to the scene of that victory Saturday as it heads to Delgado’s Kirsch-Rooney Stadium in New Orleans to begin play at the Legion state tournament. Otto Candies will face Chalmette-based Gulf Coast Bank at 12:30 p.m. in opening round action.
The state tournament, like the Southeast Regional, will be double-elimination and each contest set to go nine innings. The winner advances to the Mid-South Regional tournament in Arkansas, which begins Aug. 5.
Otto Candies went 5-1 at the Southeast Regional and led for almost the entire competition, trailing in only two innings over those six games.
Joining Otto Candies and Gulf Coast Bank at the state tournament are Gauthier & Amadee, Pedal Valve, Retif Oil, Ponstein’s, St. Landry Indians and the Gulf Coast 29’ers.
Otto Candies coach David Baudry, who has led his team to the state level in four of the past five summers, said he believes this is a deep field of championship contenders.
Gauthier & Amadee is a perennial summer factor. Newly-established Pedal Valve won the Second District tournament, besting Otto Candies among a fleet of local squads, and is comprised of players from Destrehan, St. Charles Catholic, Rummel and Riverside. Retif Oil is a former Legion state champion and Ponstein’s fell in the finals of the Southeast Regional to Otto Candies.
Offensively, the team has made strides since the prep season, one factor fueling this run. Six Otto Candies players have posted an on-base percentage over .400, while two others sport a mark over .368. Those are impressive marks especially notable given the difficult slate of teams decorating the Legion landscape: there are few off days.
“I think offensively, we’ve vastly improved from prep season,” Baudry said. “Guys have simplified their approach and done a very good job just focusing on hitting the ball hard. They’re fighting off pitches and getting a pitch they can handle.”
Leading the pack is centerfielder Hunter LeBlanc, a rising junior.
LeBlanc is batting .429 this summer through 28 games, with a .495 on-base percentage, 21 RBIs and 19 runs scored. All four marks are tops on the team.
“Hunter has been tremendous,” Baudry said. “He’s able to hit with power, fight with two strikes … he’s opened a lot of eyes. He’s a very, very strong centerfielder.”
Meanwhile, atop the Otto Candies rotation, Austin Rice and Dane Wise have really emerged, those players boasting ERAs of 1.32 and 1.30 respectively in their first extended time as starting pitchers.
Rice, Baudry notes, changed his delivery from three-quarter to sidearm and has really come into his own this summer.
“He kept working and working,” Baudry said. “We were hoping to see him break through and that’s exactly what’s happening”
Wise, Baudry said, throws a very high percentage of his pitches for strikes and is able to consistently command his secondary pitches.
The team clinched the Southeast Regional championship after defeating Ponstein’s 5-3 in the championship game of the regional.
Otto Candies (19-9-1) went 4-0 over the first four days of the tournament and only needed to win once, whereas Ponstein’s needed two wins over Otto Candies to win the regional title. Ponstein’s won the first game 4-2 to force a winner-takes-all final and one decided in the late innings.
Otto Candies led 2-1 when it added a pair of runs in the top of the sixth inning to take a 4-1 advantage. Josh Nunez scored on a wild pitch and Pat Phelan walked with the bases loaded to force home Lloyd Landry.
Ponstein’s responded in the bottom half of the inning with a run, as Cole Nalesnik’s RBI single cut the lead to 4-2.
But Otto Candies generated one more insurance run in the seventh on David Vial’s line drive RBI single. That plated Nunez and gave the team a 5-2 lead; Ponstein’s pushed one run across in their last inning to bat, but Vial got a strikeout and a pair of groundouts to earn the save.
Though conventional wisdom would suggest that pitching be sparse on the final day of a double-elimination tournament — and in the second game of a doubleheader at that — hits came at a premium. The two teams combined for just eight, each garnering four apiece.
Dane Wise took the win for Otto Candies, going 5.2 innings and allowing two runs (none earned) on three hits. He struck out five and walked one. Vial’s save came on 1.1 innings of relief. He allowed one earned run on one hit.
Ponstein’s Cody McNeil and Austin Bush combined to allow five runs (one earned) on four hits. They walked seven batters and struck out three between them.