Airline, Benton eye spots in semifinals of baseball playoffs

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It’s been eight years since a Bossier Parish baseball team has reached the semifinals of the state playoffs.

Two parish teams have a chance to accomplish that feat starting Friday night.

Airline (29-4), the No. 3 seed, hosts No. 11 Byrd (22-9) in a best-of-3 Class 5A quarterfinal series. Game 1 is Friday night at 7. Game 2 is Saturday afternoon at 2. A Game 3, if necessary, will immediately follow Game 2.

General admission is $10. It’s $5 for Airline and Byrd students with a student ID. Large crowds are expected for both games.

Benton (20-11), the No. 6 seed, visits No. 3 seed West Ouachita (23-8) in a best-of-3 Class 4A quarterfinal series. Game 1 is Friday night at 6. Game 2 is 1 p.m. Saturday. Game 3, if necessary, will immediately follow Game 2.

This will be the second time in as many years Airline and Byrd have met in the playoffs. Last year, the No. 11 seed Vikings hosted the No. 22 Jackets in the single-game first round.

Airline swept Byrd in the regular-season series, winning all three games by shutout. But Byrd turned the tables in the playoffs, winning 8-6, and eventually reaching the quarterfinals.

The Vikings and Jackets played only twice in district play this season. Airline won a close 5-3 decision at Byrd on April 5 and then routed the Jackets 9-1 at home on April 7. Cameron Parikh and Kyle Backofen were the winning pitchers.

Byrd, which swept 1-5A rival Captain Shreve 16-0 and 7-5 in the second round, finished 9-3 in district play, two games behind the Vikings.

Backofen (7-2), a ULM signee, will be well-rested. He allowed just two hits in six innings in a 7-0 first-round win over Central Lafourche on April 26.

Parikh (7-1, 1.30 ERA) and Cameron Taylor (8-0, 0.76 ERA) were the winning pitchers in the Vikings’ 12-2, 6-2 sweep of No. 19 Chalmette in the second round. Backofen would’ve pitched a potential Game 3.

Andrew Suggs and Brennan Ertz were the winning pitchers for Byrd against Captain Shreve.

Zavier Moore hit two home runs in the five-inning Game 1 win.

In addition to outstanding pitching this season, Airline has been strong at the plate. Parikh, Peyton Davis, Jarrett Bamburg, Jonathan Brandon and Austin Zickefoose are all batting over .300. Parikh and Davis lead the way with .404 and .384 averages, respectively. Josh James has been effective advancing runners and getting clutch hits.

Benton is in the quarterfinals for the fourth straight year, but the season has ended there for the Tigers the last three.

Benton swept No. 11 Crowley 9-2 and 7-2 its second-round series last Friday and Saturday. The first game was called after five innings because of inclement weather.

It took three games, but West Ouachita knocked off District 2-4A rival Neville, the No. 14 seed, in its second-round series. The Chiefs won the first 6-3, lost the second 3-2 and won the third 6-1.

West Ouachita won District 2 with a 9-1 record, losing only to Tioga 4-3 on March 26.

The Chiefs, who slipped past No. 30 Vandebilt Catholic 4-3 in the first round, reeled off 12 straight wins after that before falling to Neville in Game 2.

After starting 6-6, West Ouachita has won 15 of its last 18 games. Zach Watson, a power hitter who has signed with LSU, is one of the Chiefs’ leaders. Austin Tidwell and Dawson Huckaby led West Ouachita at the plate in the Game 3 win over Neville. Todx Leonard pitched a complete game.

Tanner Craft (9-2, 1.787 ERA) and Jackson Rutledge (5-4, 1.685) lead the Benton pitching staff. Four Benton starters are battling .400 or better — Coleman Nerren, Conner Jack Smith, Sam Simmons and Wade Grubbs. Cody Norris, Garrett Hable and Craft are batting .300-plus.

Like Benton, West Ouachita lost in the quarterfinals last year.

The Tigers were swept by eventual state runner-up Teurlings Catholic. The Chiefs fell to Tioga in three games.

This is only the second year best-of-3 series have been used in the second and quarterfinal rounds in 4A.

In 2014 Benton lost to St. Michael 11-0. In 2013 the Tigers fell to Teurlings 8-6.

Benton hasn’t gotten past the quarterfinals since reaching the Class 3A state championship game in 2007.

West Ouachita has also had recent success in the playoffs but come up short. The Chiefs lost in the semifinals in 2014 and 2011 and the quarterfinals in 2013.

— Russell Hedges, rhedges@bossierpress.com