After the Class A state championship trophy was formally presented to Coach Mackie Duos, the Sacred Heart Trojan players gathered around in victory celebration. Pictured in the winning circle are Mayor Hottell Fontenot, Spencer Manuel, David Veillon, Ryan Brignac, Sean McCurry, Alex Cantu, Tommy Manuel, and Kevin Ardoin. (Gazette photo by Nicholas Jagneaux)
Cooking up a championship
Winning a state championship is a lot like making the most amazing meal ever.
First you have to have the right ingredients. Next you have to put in the work and time to make those ingredients meld together.
Thirdly, you have to have enough patience to allow those ingredients to work their magic. But, most important, you have to have enough confidence in your skills to make the dish as spectacular as possible.
That is exactly what happened 30 years ago this month when the Sacred Heart Trojans claimed their first baseball state championship since 1958.
The 1990 team sure had the right ingredients. Nine of the fifteen players that pulled in the hardware that season had also claimed the Dixie Youth World Series title just five years earlier. Not only that, but that same group of nine had never lost an all-star game until they competed in the Babe Ruth World Series as 13-year olds.
Even with that core nine guiding the team to the title, there was no doubt that the remaining six players were a huge part of making the 1990 campaign one of the most memorable in the history of the school.
Sacred Heart’s head coach at the time, Mackie Duos, knew that his entire team was something special.
“This was the best team I had ever been around,” stated Duos. “Everyone on the team contributed in one way or another. We had 11 guys that could get on the mound, give us innings and throw strikes. It was unbelievable.”
“We had a bond that could not be broken,” said team member Cody Vidrine. “We had every confidence in each other and thoroughly trusted each other.”
Spencer Manuel reiterated Vidrine’s sentiment.
“We had a lot of unsung heroes on that team,” commented Manuel. “Anyone could have gotten the job done and they did it all year long. Winning the state championship was definitely a team effort.”
Besides the right combination, the players on the 1990 squad also had the right work ethic. The entire team knew that if they wanted to reach the goal that had eluded them the prior three years of their high school careers, they had to make sure they were prepared for the rigorous season ahead.
“They were a band of brothers,” said Duos. “These guys wanted to practice all the time. We would practice on Saturdays, holidays, it did not matter.”
“Our mind set was not to be outworked,” stated Vidrine. “We felt that there would not be another team in the state that was going to work harder than us.”
Hard work aside, the 1990 team also had something that all championship teams should have; the confidence that they were going to win, no matter what. This squad was very hungry for a title, having come up short of their goal the previous three years.
As stated earlier, the core of this team had never not finished a job before them. So, the thought of not coming away with the trophy in hand at the end of the season really did not enter their minds.
“To me this was do or die,” said team member Jared Fontenot. “We had to produce. This was our last chance to win a championship. We had fell short in the past, but we knew how to win. I believed we had the talent, we just had to go above and beyond.”
“They said at the beginning of the season that they wanted the state championship,” stated then assistant coach Keith Menard. “We had a great team. They practiced like it and worked like it. They just wanted it more than anybody else.”
“If you want to be good, you have to be confident,” commented Duos. “We were confident. Not cocky, but confident.”
That attitude coupled with the hard work put in during the pre-season paid off in more ways than just winning a state title. It also earned the respect from teams around the state.
The Trojans started the 1990 campaign by winning their first seven games in a row, finally falling 4-2 to Class 3A Abbeville.
After that game, the winning ways continued for Sacred Heart. The Trojans rolled through the next several games, which included season defining wins over Catholic High, St. Thomas More and Tuerlings in the All-Catholic Tournament. (Note: The All-Catholic Tournament title game was postponed due to weather conditions).
Following an opening 7-2 district win over Livoinia, Sacred Heart stunned the high school baseball world by taking home the Barbe Tourament title. In this tournament, the Trojans defeated some heavy hitters, including Class AAAA Lagrange, Class AAA Jennings and Class AAAA Sam Houston. It was a defining moment in the season.
“After that tournament, some of the other coaches came up to me and said ‘What are you feeding those guys, baseballs’,” said Duos. “The way we played gave us even more confidence that we could win it all.”
“When we went to the Barbe Tournament, we were playing on a high level,” stated team member Eric Buller. “Winning over there may us believe that we could play with anybody.”
“Winning at Barbe was big,” commented Menard. “It proved that we had depth in the pitching staff and it set the tone for us in the playoffs.”
That confidence, however, took a hit when Sacred Heart lost back-to-back games to Catholic of Pointe Coupee. The losses not only blemished the Trojans’ record, but it also sent a message to the players.
“When we lost those two games, it made us realize that we needed to buckle down,” said Manuel. “It showed us that it would not be easy. I know it woke me up.”
“Catholic was a good team that year, so it wasn’t a big shock that we lost to them,” stated team member Phillip Ardoin. “But, it made us think a little. We knew we had to re-group.”
Re-group is just what the Trojans did.
Following those losses, Sacred Heart proceeded to demolish the team that were next in line on their schedule. In those ensuing games, the Trojans ran through district play defeating Livonia, Mamou (twice) and St. Ed’s (twice) by the combined score of 57-8.
The last game against rival St. Ed’s showed the togetherness and brotherhood that Sacred Heart held. During what was the district championship game, a collision at the plate with a Blue Jay runner and Fontenot resulted in a bench clearing brawl. The Trojans were not about to let a St. Ed’s player get away with a cheap play.
“If that would have been today, we would have had a number of players suspended,” said Vidrine. “Looking back, it was something that even further cemented out bond as a team.”
With the district championship under their belt, Sacred Heart headed into the playoffs with all of the determination in the world to grab what they believed was rightfully theirs.
The Trojans received a bye in the first round of the post-season. But, before they were to take on their district foe Livonia in the first round, Sacred Heart participated in a tune-up game with Class AAAA St. Amant.
Despite a valiant effort by the Trojans, they came up short in a 4-2 loss to the Gators. That loss did not deter Sacred Heart in the least bit, as they blanked the Wildcats 4-0 in regional round of the playoff and then proceeded to whip up on Haynesville 16-2 in the quarterfinals. The Trojans took the final step toward the championship game by blasting Central Catholic of Morgan City 11-1 in the semi-finals.
All that was left for Sacred Heart to produce a complete championship was to take down a St. Mary’s squad that had ousted the Trojans from the playoffs the year before. But, before that could happen the rains came. And came. And came. So much so that the championship game was cancelled.
“It was nerve-racking to have to wait to play the championship game,” said Menard. “I knew that we could handle it because we had been through tough situations throughout the season. So, I was not worried about the mentality of the players.”
With the game rescheduled, another minor worry arose; the size of the park.
“That was the smallest park we had played in all year long,” commented Duos. “It must have been 280-300 all the way around and we knew they could hit the ball.”
“We were still confident going into the game,” said Ardoin. “We had tremendous pitching and a great defense. We hadn’t given up much all year long.”
Nevertheless, the size of the field did come into play during the game and almost changed the course of history. Sacred Heart got on the board first with a solo home run from Fontenot.
The Trojans scored again in the sixth inning when Tommy Manuel singled home pinch runner Danny Ardoin.
With Sacred Heart leading 2-0 and All-State pitcher Vidrine on the hill, it looked like the Trojans were on their way to the taking home the trophy. However, in the bottom of the seventh inning, St. Mary’s two best hitters went deep over the wall with back-to-back home runs, tying the game up.
“The first home run was one of those pop-ups that got out of a small park,” stated Menard. “The second home run would have been out of any park.”
Right after the second home run, the Trojan coaching staff held a conference on the mound to decide what their next move would be. During that meeting, to a man, every one of the players stated the obvious.
“When we got to the mound, David Veillion said ‘Coach we are not taking Cody out of the game’,” Fontenot recounted. “Everybody on the team knew we wanted him to finish the game on the mound. We were going to win or lose with him in control.”
That decision paid dividends for Sacred Heart. From that point on, Vidrine was a renewed machine. Not only did Vidrine shut down the threat, but he pitched the final three extra innings like he threw the first three innings.
In the top of the ninth, the Trojans got the break they were looking for. Vidrine singled and was replaced by Buller on the base path.
An error with Alex Cantu at the plate moved Buller to third and put Cantu at second. Then on one of the weirdest ways to win a championship, Tiger’s ace Mark Vienne balked, scoring Buller and basically sealing the title.
“That was a crazy way to win,” Duos said in a disbelieving manner. “But, we had found ways to win all season. Now that I think about it, it was destiny that it happened that way.”
Vidrine and the Trojan defense shut out St. Mary’s in the bottom of the ninth, putting the stamp on one of the greatest seasons in Sacred Heart baseball history.
“We had the right people in the right place at the right time,” Manuel stated emphatically. “And, we had some luck along the way.”
Isn’t that the way championships and great dishes are supposed to be composed?