BARBE BUCS: SEVEN AND COUNTING

Rick Sarro Monday, August 11, 2014 0
BARBE BUCS: SEVEN AND COUNTING

Songs are written about winning championships. Movies are made and books are written about titles won. Memories and bonds are forged when players and coaches race onto fields in celebration and trophies are raised while tears of joy fall. That’s all in the protocol when you’re crowned the best. Try to imagine winning seven championships. The Barbe Bucs, the perennial baseball lords in Louisiana, recently added another chapter to their storybook history by capturing a 7th Class 5-A State title.

The boys in blue keep collecting the hardware and don’t mind enlarging the trophy case on campus. The carpenter is on speed dial because Barbe shows no signs of slowing down.

Barbe’s 7-1 domination of Live Oak in the state title game played at Sulphur’s McMurry Park earned the team top honors, but also kept the Bucs ranked No. 1 on numerous national high schools polls. That means once the final rankings are released, Barbe could very well be crowned national champions as well. It should be.

Head coach Glenn Cecchini estimates prep baseball has been around Louisiana for a bit longer than 90 years and this is the first ever national championship brought home by an in-state school.  It’s a twofer deal coupled with the state title, which elevates this Barbe team to the status of best in the school’s history.

There have been many state championship Barbe teams (as noted earlier), and more than a few included  players drafted by the Major Leagues. But arguably, none accomplished what this year’s version was able to.

After losing two early season games, the Bucs ran off 28 straight victories. They retained and had a stranglehold on the nation’s top ranking through the season-long stretch. They posted a 39-2 overall record. That’s the most single-season wins in school history and another Louisiana record to boot.

The team set numerous team bench marks while giving up only one run in the state tournament. (No. 1-seeded Barbe blanked seventh-seeded St. Amant 2-0 in the semi-finals.)

There have been Barbe teams of the past that have hit more homers. Think of rosters that included Joe Lawrence, Austin Nagle and Hommy Rosada. Maybe there were squads that had more dominating pitching from the likes of Chad Cooley, Wade LeBlanc and Nick Bourgeouis. But to be deemed the best ever, which I believe the 2014 Bucs are, means that no team from the past can match the production and talent of this team from top to bottom, from every corner and every position.

Cecchini let it be known early on that this year’s crew was his best ever, so that’s good enough for me.

The one constant through Barbe’s seven championships since 1998 — and all those district titles, national rankings and state tournament appearances — has been the indomitable and inexhaustible Cecchini. He has guided the Bucs, preaching hard work, fundamentals, team play, aggressive tactics and superb pitching and defense: all core qualities that show up in baseball stats.

But Cecchini’s methodology goes much further and to a different level. He instills in his players a strong sense of belief in each other, personal accountability, chemistry, camaraderie and responsibility both on and off the field.

Cecchini readily and easily professes his intense faith and the fact that he is a born-again Christian. He has made that devotion and those values part of the team concept. This year’s squad was particularly faith-driven, holding weekly Bible studies. They were especially proud of the fact they held post-game prayers with every opposing team during the regular season.

When the coach and his players spoke of loving and supporting each other, those emotions come from a real and deep-rooted place.

Cecchini admits he is fortunate that over the years he has had an amazing pool of talent come up the ranks and through his program from the acclaimed and highly successful South Lake Charles Little League system.  The majority of this year’s star players were SLC products. In fact, seniors Kennon Fontenot, Gunner Leger, Bryce and Beau Jordan, Braedon Barrett and Nick Abshire have been teammates most of their lives, and even made a well-documented appearance at the renowned Little League World Series in 2008.

They fell short at Williamsport (home of the Little League World Series), but more than made up for it with two state championships in a three-year span while at Barbe.

Cecchini, like many veteran coaches to win state titles, knows the game and how to coach winning baseball through techniques, fundamentals and strategy. (A case in point was a critical Beau Jordan steal at home plate in the bottom of the first inning that tied Live Oak at 1-all in the title game and turned the momentum of the game.)

The 52-year-old Cecchini brings much more to the table by way of intangibles and building relationships.  He truly believes that if he loves and hugs these kids, they will respond in kind toward him, his message and to each other.

Cecchini, easily the winningest and most successful prep baseball coach in the state, admits the recipe for his secret sauce to winning and keeping the train on the tracks is simple: “I never forget what it’s like to be 14 to 18 years old. I’m a big kid at heart and love being around the kids, taking batting practice with them or catching fly balls,” he says.

He’s tempered his vocal outbursts and salty language over the years, and in many ways has become a more well-rounded coach and mentor.  His lessons from the diamond easily translate to life lessons once a player grows from a boy to a young man.

Cecchini has put many former players in Major League uniforms via the player draft; they include his two sons Garin and Gavin, who are in the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets organizations respectively. Both of the younger Cecchinis went high in the draft, earning million-dollar signing bonuses.

This 2014 team won’t be known for any first-round draft picks or speculation over an early professional career. Their history, their marks and their championships were the results of sheer talent, yes. But more important to them was their close, tight, brotherly love and friendship.

Their coach described this team as the most “tight knit and cohesive” unit he’s ever coached. Those seniors, especially Fontenot, Leger, Abshire and the Jordan twins, are like family, and maybe even closer than real brothers. Their responsibility and accountability to each other; the hours of practice, hundreds of games, long bus rides and all those tense battles for a championship can bond young men as blood often does.

The pressure of Barbe’s tradition and history are felt by every team, every year. But the expectations of this acclaimed senior class, coupled with the No. 1 national ranking and the prospect of a national championship, were a lot to heap on any 18-year-old shoulders, no matter how broad or strong.

This team cherished the challenge. “I told them ‘our’ goal was to win state and a national championship,” remembered Cecchini. “It wasn’t my goal. It wasn’t about me. It was what they wanted and strived for as a team.”

Junior outfielder Shane Selman would have received my consideration for the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award if it had such an honor. The LHSAA only awards the top player performance in the championship game. Selman blasted two home runs in two games. His solo blast against Live Oak was the eventual winning run.

And then there was freshman pitcher Adam Goree, who was sent to the mound with a state championship riding on his young arm.

Goree promptly loaded the bases with Live Oak runners in the top of the first inning with walks and lose location due to his admitted nervousness. But the 15 year old, whom Leger describes as a “stud,” quickly settled down and mowed down opposing batters from then on. Goree walked in Live Oak’s only run, but that was it, as he gave up no earned runs, only three hits and posted nine strikeouts.

A stud indeed, and the team’s future ace in 2015 and beyond.

This season to remember was a slow burn. Pitching and hitting slumps came and went. It was a matter of injuries, an unexpected rally or maybe a simple play long forgotten that won a game and kept a winning streak going.

It all led to a championship weekend, played before an adoring home crowd that ended with a big blue dog pile for the ages.

Cecchini was back at the ballpark just one week after season’s end preparing for his summer camps. (He and his wife did make a quick trip to Georgia to watch son Gavin play some minor league games.) They were keeping an eye out for the next Barbe shortstop or pitcher no doubt.

Seniors Fontenot and Leger will enjoy a restful and fun summer as newly minted high school graduates as they set their sights on continuing their baseball careers at the collegiate level at Louisiana-Lafayette.

Bryce Jordan and brother Beau, who earned the title game’s Most Outstanding Player award, both realized a childhood dream as they were recruited and signed to play for the LSU Tigers.

Third baseman Braedon Barrett is headed north to Northwestern State. And pitcher Erin Baldwin has signed with Houston. If you’re counting, that’s six seniors headed to Division One programs. That’s another first posted by this group, which is described by Cecchini as “special.”

Baseball brought them together as 8- and 9-year-olds. They grew up together in cleats, taking grounders and batting practice. They met goals with championship victories. They survived the glare of the spotlight with humility and respect.

Their legacy will be anchored by two state championships. They will be remembered as a band of brothers, who not only shared a love for the game, but more importantly for each other.

It’s a great story they will be retelling at Barbe for years to come.

 

 

Get Rick Sarro’s perspectives on sports on Soundoff 60, which airs Monday through Sunday nights at 9 pm on Suddenlink Channel 60 and Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10 am as well.