Pitching, defense paves way for Pios

By Chris Quebedeaux

SPORTS EDITOR

CROWLEY – After every game this spring, Notre Dame coach Timmy Robichaux has given credit to his team’s pitching and defense.

Not that his Pios’ offensive numbers haven’t been good - because they have been. It’s simply because pitching and defense are what Robichaux has felt would carry his team to the next level.

After reviewing the numbers through 31 games, it is no wonder the Pios (23-8) are headed back to the Class AAA state tournament for the first time since 2005.

Notre Dame will square off with St. Charles Catholic Friday in a semifinal contest at New Iberia’s Acadian Ballpark. First pitch is slated for 5 o’clock.

“The reason why we try and focus on defense and pitching is because it is something you can do every day,” said Robichaux. “You’re not going to hit every day so we want to come out and pitch well and play good defense. We just feel like that will give us a chance to be in every game that we play. That’s been our motto all year.”

Notre Dame has lived up to that motto since beginning the season three months ago, committing less than two errors per outing for a team fielding percentage of .943. The Pios have also turned 23 double plays on the infield while the outfield has logged a number of assists.

“I think overall, defensively, we’ve played well during the course of the year,” said Robichaux. “Our play on the infield has been solid and our play in the outfield has been really good. (Bryant) Gilbert moving to centerfield has helped us a lot and (Ricky) Stoma and (Luke) Bourgeois have been playing well also. Really, all the way around, everybody has contributed.”

The Pios have committed just four errors in postseason play, three occurring last Saturday in a 5-3 quarterfinal victory over Lutcher. Luckily, the four errors have only led to one unearned run.

With the defense as solid as it has been, whoever toes the rubber has less to worry about.

“Our philosophy is to pitch to contact,” said Robichaux. “Try to make them put the ball in play and not walk a lot of people. We preach to our kids all the time about making them put the ball in play and making the routine outs. If we can do that, we pretty much can play with anybody and that’s what we’re trying to make them understand. It’s not really who you’re playing...you’re playing the game. If we play the game well - throw strikes, play defense, put the ball in play - we’ve got a chance to beat anybody.”

Notre Dame hurlers Austin Robichaux and Ryan Leonards have carried the load for most of the season, especially leading up to Friday’s contest.

Robichaux, a hard-throwing sophomore, has two victories and a save in three postseason games while Leonards, a junior, has one victory.

Robichaux, who is 7-2 on the season with an earned run average of 1.75, will get the start on the mound on Friday.

“Our philosophy is to get there (to the title game) and we feel Austin gives us the best chance,” said the elder Robichaux of his nephew, who has given up just 15 earned runs in 60 innings and has 77 strikeouts to his credit. “And, we’re better defensively with Ryan at shortstop then when he’s on the mound.

“We weren’t sure if Austin could be our No. 1 early in the season. We knew with his stuff he potentially could, but, maturity wise, that was kind of a question mark.

“We put him against every hard team we could face and he had a few bumps and bruises along the way. But I think that has prepared him for the back half of the season which is what we hoped for.”

Leonards is also 7-2 on the year and boasts an ERA of 1.92. He has logged 58 1/3 innings on the mound, giving up just 16 earned runs . He has chalked up 54 strikeouts.

“If it takes Austin and Ryan to get us to the finals, then that’s who we will use Friday,” said Robichaux. “It’s nice when Ryan is on the mound. He might not have quite the stuff Austin has, but, mentally, he’s going to fight and do whatever it takes to try to win the game for you.

“Where Austin has the stuff of a pitcher, Ryan has the mental make up of a champion.”

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