The Benton Tigers and Parkway Panthers are one win away from a chance to play for a state championship.
Both teams are in Sulphur for the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Baseball State Tournament at McMurry Park.
Defending state champion Benton (33-6), the No. 4 seed, faces No. 1 Tioga (29-5) at 11 a.m. Thursday in the Class 4A semifinals. The winner plays the winner between No. 2 Lakeshore (33-4) and No. 3 Breaux Bridge (32-6) for the state championship Saturday at 5:30.
Parkway (31-5), the No. 3 seed, was scheduled to play No. 2 Sam Houston (35-4) at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Class 5A semifinals.
But that game along with the rest of the state tournament schedule for 4 p.m. games and after has been cancelled for Thursday because of inclement weather. As of early Thursday afternoon, a new schedule had not been announced.
The Parkway-Sam Houston winner faces the winner between No. 1 Barbe (36-3) and No. 5 West Monroe (27-11) for the state championship Saturday at 6.
Tioga has won 29 straight since losing its first five games. During that stretch, the Indians have won 27 by at least three runs.
Tioga was the No. 2 seed last season, but the Indians were upset by No. 29 Westgate 5-2 in the first round. Tioga was the state runner-up in 2017.
The Indians avenged last season’s upset in the first round this season, defeating No. 32 Westgate 10-0. They swept No. 16 Rayne 8-2 and 10-0 in the second round and Salmen 4-1 in eight innings and 16-3 in the quarterfinals.
Benton defeated No. 29 Plaquemine 4-2 in the first round and then swept No. 13 Northwood 11-1 and 7-3 in the second. The Tigers lost Game 1 to West Ouachita 7-5 in the quarterfinals, then swept the Chiefs 8-0 and 9-8 to win the series.
Blake McGehee and Peyton Forester were the winning pitchers for Tioga against Salmen.
McGehee allowed three hits in eight innings in the 4-1 victory. Isaac Williams hit a walk-off three-run homer in the eighth.
McGehee and Forester are also both capable hitters. Terrence Grines had seven hits in the two games. Rylon Ganey has hit two home runs in the playoffs.
Benton has won 15 of its last 16 games and 26 of its last 28. Every Tiger in the lineup had at least one hit in Sunday’s sweep of West Ouachita.
Cade Scott, Clint Lasiter, Cole Horton, Sam Simmons, Daniel Halbert, Brennan Blaylock, Matthew Gennaro, Tanner Timms and JT Brice have all been productive at the plate this season.
Pitchers Landon Joyner, Brock Van Hoy, Sam Simmons, Dane Stearns, Cameron Ross and Grayson Gates have all done their part to get the Tigers this far.
Jack Walters, Austin Berry and Hayden Gatti have also performed their roles well.
Both Parkway and Sam Houston are looking to end long state title droughts.
The Panthers’ last championship was in 1998 in Class 4A. Sam Houston’s last one came in 2001 in 5A.
The Broncos have reached the semifinals the last two seasons, falling to eventual runner-up Sulphur 4-3 last year and eventual champ Central 4-1 in 2017.
Sam Houston defeated No. 31 Southwood 13-0 in the first round this year. The Broncos swept No. 15 Denham Springs 12-0 and 12-2 in the second and No. 10 Destrehan 8-5 and 4-0 in the quarterfinals.
Center fielder Braden Duhon (Louisiana Tech), shortstop Hunter Gotreaux (Nicholls State), pitcher Cameron Meeks (McNeese State) and catcher Silas Ardoin (Texas) are all Division I signees.
Duhon had five hits and Meeks four in the quarterfinal series.
Meeks (9-0) allowed two hits in six innings and struck out eight in the 8-5 victory over Destrehan. He entered the series with a 0.44 ERA.
Kyle Bartley (6-2) allowed five hits and struck out five in the 4-0 win.
Sam Houston was the runner-up to Barbe in District 3-5A. The Broncos split their district games with the Bucs, losing 3-0 and winning 10-3. A loss to Lafayette prevented them from sharing the district title.
District 1-5A champion Parkway defeated No. 30 Natchitoches Central 10-0 in the first round. The Panthers swept No. 14 Airline 6-4 and 11-9 in the second and No. 11 Northshore 5-0 and 3-1 in the quarterfinals.
Senior third baseman and pitcher Eric Brown, a Coastal Carolina signee, has had an outstanding season.
But the Panthers are similar to Benton in that everyone has contributed to the team’s success.
Amani Larry, Caleb Reese, Christion Rayner, Brady Norcross, Peyton Lewis, Gabe Larry, Collier Cloinger, Hayden Knotts and Christian Vicknair can all hit and play defense.
Knotts and Rayner were the winning pitchers in the quarterfinal series. Knotts and Parker Stevens were the winners against Airline. Lewis and Drake Fontentot have also been on the mound in the playoffs.
Hunter Holder and Cade Johns have also done their part on the basepaths.
Parkway coach David George said the Panthers’ success has depended on everyone stepping up when called upon. If one player is having an off game, then another will step up.
“We talk about this all the time with the players and stuff,” George said after the sweep of Northshore. “We talk about team and we talk about family. This is a team. They have fun. I think that’s the key to us. They have a lot of fun playing together.”
Both the Panthers and the Tigers are hoping they’ll get a chance to play together one last time on Saturday.