(Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, May 09, 2013 7:06 PM
KINDER — The Yellow Jackets will arrive in Monroe this weekend ahead of schedule.
The young team wasn’t supposed to be this good this quick. Maybe next year, but not just yet.
That was the thinking everywhere but in their own dugout.
“We thought we would have a pretty good team,” said Kinder head baseball coach Ken Courville. “We were young, we made some mistakes, but we have learned.
“Sure we hit a few bumps in the road, but those made us that much better.”
Thus, Kinder will arrive at Warhawk Field on the campus of the University of Louisiana-Monroe not as a star-crossed newcomer, but a true Class 2A championship contender.
“I think we have as good a chance as anybody once we get there,” said Courville. “We just have to play the way we are capable of playing, the way we have been playing.”
Awaiting the Yellow Jackets in the semifinal will be third-seeded Evangel Christian, a traditional power. First pitch is set for 10 a.m. Friday.
“They are always good, so we will have to be on our game,” Courville said of Evangel.
Excitement in town is high as Kinder (22-11), the 15th seed, has already beaten up on one big boy, knocking off No. 2 John Curtis in New Orleans 7-2 in the regional round.
“The entire community is behind us and really wants to see these boys do some good,” Courville said. “It is a fun time for us. I think we will have a really good showing when we get to Monroe.”
The Yellow Jackets will start four sophomores and a freshman in the tournament. It is that group which has outscored its playoff opponents 24-8 in their three games, including beating up on Menard 14-3 in the opener. That game not only erased a loss a few weeks earlier but set the stage for this tourney run.
“We turned the corner in that game,” Courville said. “We gained a lot of confidence once we beat them. We have been playing good baseball since then.
“When I first saw the bracket I thought if we could get by Menard I liked the way things layed out for us. Now we are taking advantage of that.”
They also got a big boost when ace hurler Zach Rider joined the team six games ago. Rider, a sophomore, had torn an anterior cruciate ligament during football season and wasn’t cleared to play until late April.
“We were hoping to get him back in time for the playoffs,” Courville said. “He has been a big help. In a way he benefited from the layoff. He doesn’t have any wear and tear on his body or arm. That could be a bonus now.”
Rider two-hit John Curtis and has two wins in the playoffs and a save. His earned run average is 0.93 and his batting average since entering the lineup is .444 with four doubles and a triple.
“He has made an impact,” Courville said.
While the Yellow Jackets are young, they have also gotten help from some older players. Senior Christian Manuel has posted an impressive 9-1 record with an ERA of 1.80. Fellow senior Marshall Harmon has also provided punch to the lineup with a .360 average, knocking in 21 runs while scoring 25.
Senior Tevin Lejune is hitting at a .405 clip with 27 RBIs and 35 runs scored.
“I don’t want to take away what our seniors have done for us,” Courville said. “They have come up with some big hits for us and some big wins. We would not be where we are without the seniors.”
Sophomore shortstop Dylon Poncho leads the team with a .443 average and has a team-high 36 RBIs.
“We have a lot of people who can do some damage,” Courville said. “That’s what makes this exciting.”
The Yellow Jackets might be at the tournament early, but they figure they might as well make even more noise since they are
No. 21 Catholic-Baton Rouge (23-13) vs. No. 13 Sulphur (24-11), 10 a.m.
No. 1 Barbe (33-3) vs. No. 9 West Monroe (23-12), 1 p.m.
No. 10 Zachary (25-11) vs. No. 18 St. Amant (26-9), 4 p.m.
No. 3 Brother Martin (30-5) vs. No. 6 Sam Houston (25-9), 7 p.m.
Catholic-Baton Rouge-Sulphur winner vs. Barbe-West Monroe winner, 11 a.m.
Zachary-St. Amant winner vs. Brother Martin-Sam Houston winner, 2 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
No. 1 St. Thomas More (28-4) vs. No. 4 Teurlings Catholic (25-7), 7 p.m. (Field 41)
No. 6 Tioga (27-9) vs. No. 2 Lutcher (27-4), 4 p.m. (Field 41)
St. Thomas More-Teurlings Catholic winner vs. Tioga-Lutcher winner, 4 p.m. (Field 41)
No. 1 North DeSoto (28-4) vs. No. 5 Parkview Baptist (18-17), 10 a.m. (Field 41)
No. 11 Brusly (26-7) vs. No. 2 E.D. White (27-4), 1 p.m. (Field 41)
North DeSoto-Parkview Baptist winner vs. Brusly-E.D. White winner, 1 p.m. (Field 41)
No. 1 Calvary Baptist (23-3) vs. No. 4 University (28-6), 1 p.m.
No. 3 Evangel Christian (20-10) vs No. 14 Kinder (22-11), 10 a.m.
Calvary Baptist-University winner vs. Evangel Christian-Kinder winner, 1 p.m.
No. 1 Ouachita Christian (30-5) vs. No. 5 Central Catholic (23-7), 7 p.m.
No. 6 St. John (28-6) vs. No. 2 Mangham (26-8), 4 p.m.
Ouachita Christian-Central Catholic winner vs. St. John-Mangham winner, 4 p.m.
No. 16 Simpson (12-18) vs. No. 12 Hicks (22-8), 7 p.m., (Field 40)
No. 11 Hornbeck (20-13) vs. No. 2 Forest (24-8), 4 p.m., (Field 40)
Simpson-Hicks winner vs. Hornbeck-Forest winner, 3 p.m. (Field 40)
No. 1 Family Christian (24-4) vs. No. 4 Maurepas (16-11), 10 a.m., (Field 40)
No. 3 Claiborne Christian (11-18) vs. No. 2 Elizabeth (24-4), 1 p.m., (Field 40)
Family Christian-Maurepas winner vs. Claiborne Christian-Elizabeth winner, noon (Field 40)