Game of inches: No. 2 Mangham pushes past sixth-seeded War Eagles in Class 1A semifinals

PETER SILAS PASQUA ppasqua@postsouth.com
St. John's Seth Gulotta takes a lead at second base against Mangham's Coltin Monin in the third inning of the Dragons' 4-2 Class 1A semifinal victory on Friday afternoon at ULM's Warhawk Field. 
POST SOUTH PHOTO/Peter Silas Pasqua

MONROE – St. John the Evangelist High School jumped out to an early lead but left 14 base runners stranded including 11 in scoring position in a 4-2 Class 1A semifinal loss to Mangham on Friday afternoon at the LHSAA State Baseball Tournament on the University of Louisiana-Monroe's Warhawk Field.

No. 6 seed St. John – Plaquemine (28-7), under coach Heath Whittington, had the go-ahead run at the plate in the top of the seventh inning. It was the furthest the War Eagles, seeking their first state championship in a boys' sport, have advanced in the postseason since finishing runners-up in 2003.

"I have never been more proud of a group of young kids," Whittington said. "We battled and I couldn't ask for anything more.

"I don't want to talk about the negative. You have to make the routine plays. When you are in a tight ball game like that you have to execute and they got a couple of runs that we didn't get. They made the plays and it is a game of inches."

No. 2 Mangham (29-8), under coach Scott Wilcher, went on to defeat fifth-seeded Central Catholic - Morgan City, an 8-7 winner over top seed and defending champion Quachita Christian, 4-2 in the title game for the Dragons' first state championship in baseball.

"We knew we would have to face adversity but we didn't think it was going to be that close," Wilcher said. "We put a lot of runners on but they just couldn't capitalize and we did with a blooper hit here or there. I didn't want it to be that close but we will take it."

It marked the third time this season the two teams met. The Dragons defeated St. John 6-4 in both teams' season opener in Mangham before the War Eagles returned the favor 9-4 in Plaquemine.

Hunter Schnebelen took the loss for St. John allowing eight hits over five 2/3 innings while walking and striking out three each.

Brandon Noel was 2-for-4 at the plate, while Christopher Patin (run) was 1-for-2 and Jacob Caballero (stolen base) was 1-for-3. Morgan Booksh (RBI) was 1-for-5, Colby Landry (two stolen bases) scored a run and Seth Gulotta had an RBI.

Ridge Heisler picked up the win in two 2/3 innings of relief allowing just one hit while striking out three and walking two. Starter Garrett Dye lasted four 1/3 innings surrendering four hits while striking out six and walking eight.

"I think their pitchers did an excellent job of hitting their spots, keeping us off balance and changing speeds," Whittington said.

Heisler (two runs) was also 2-for-2 at the plate, while Chance Fleming (run, RBI) was 2-for-4 and Dye and Cody Turner were each 1-for-2. Lance Romero (RBI) and Luke Watts were each 1-for-3.

Gulotta's sacrifice fly to left put St. John on the board in the first inning after Dye walked three straight batters to load the bases but the Eagles stranded runners in scoring position.

Mangham answered in the bottom half to tie it 1-1. Heisler led off with a double to the left gap and scored on Fleming's liner through the left infield.

St. John regained the lead in the second inning. Patin dropped a single in front of right to lead off before Jacob Maranto's sacrifice bunt put runners in scoring position after Schnebelen drew a walk. Booksh's fly gave the War Eagles a 2-1 lead but St. John left runners on the corners.

War Eagle shortstop Trevor Curry, a Southeastern Louisiana University signee, tagged out Watts at second base after Schnebelen caught him in a run down to first baseman Gulotta ending the bottom half.

"We stayed together and almost had it but sometimes it just doesn't fall your way," Curry said. "We never give up and you could see that. It is disappointing but it is a learning experience. This team played better together than any team I have ever been on."

Caballero grounded through the right infield to lead off the third inning but the Eagles left two runners stranded.

Mangham scored two runs in the third to take a 3-2 lead. Heisler lined through the right infield to lead off before Fleming's fly dropped in shallow center. Dylan Rideway's sacrifice tied it before Romero's liner off the mound ricocheted off second base into shallow right to put the Dragons ahead for good.

St. John left two stranded in the fourth after Landry and Curry drew consecutive walks, the later intentional. Booksh singled to shallow right centerfield with one out but was caught stealing.

Gulotta caught a pop up to end the bottom half leaving two Dragons stranded after Dye's blooper drifted into shallow left to lead off the inning.

"This is the best team I have ever played on," Gulotta said. "We wouldn't have been in this position unless everybody gave 100 percent."

Noel grounded through the left infield in the fifth and Schnebelen stole second after grounding into a fielder's choice to put runners in scoring position but St. John came up empty.

The War Eagles had runners in scoring position again in the sixth after Schnebelen retired Mangham in order. Caballero stole second after grounding into a fielder's choice but shortstop Coltin Monin snagged a liner to end the inning.

The Dragons' final run came in the bottom half when Trey Cureington reached on an error after striking out to lead off. Turner singled and Schnebelen intentionally walked Heisler before walking Monin to reflect the final tally. Booksh's only pitch induced a fly to end the inning.

Noel led off the seventh with a liner to center and pinch hitter Rene Ledet drew a two-out walk. A wild pitch put runners in scoring position but leadoff hitter Booksh struck out to end the game.

"It is a big difference when you have the tying run at third and winning run at second," Whittington said.