Pictured here as they gathered at The Old Regulars meeting are as follows from left to right: back row- Jimmy LaFleur; middle row- L.O. Campbell, Herbert “Butch” LaFleur, Judge John Saunders, Cecil Reed, and Eugene Fontenot; front row Charles Buller. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Diamond heros of Troy
By: TONY MARKS
When people around Ville Platte first hear of Sacred Heart winning a baseball state championship, most think of 1993 when Peyton Manning from Newman High School let a ball go between his legs at shortstop that allowed the winning run to cross home plate for the Trojans. While that game had its memorable moments in the final inning of play, the history of the Trojans winning the title began over three decades before with similar late inning heroics.
Several members of the team that won Sacred Heart’s first baseball title in 1958 got together Wednesday as part of the annual meeting of the Old Regulars at the home of teammate Judge John Saunders. Saunders that season was a starting outfielder.
Charles Buller, who was the starting centerfielder 60 years ago, said the championship was a big deal because “baseball was always popular in Ville Platte.”
“When we were young, there was no little league,” said Trojan catcher Cecil Reed. “So, we just played among ourselves. As we were coming up, Little League was coming up. It was building everywhere, so baseball was getting hot. That’s why the championship was real significant for us.”
While there were no formal city teams back in those days, Buller said that the boys would “form little teams in Ville Platte and play against each other.” He added, “We were just kids, and we’d ride our bikes to go play baseball. We all went to school from the first grade together. We were tight and all good friends. It was very special.”
That team chemistry carried over into high school at Sacred Heart. Buller and Reed were part of the Trojan teams that went to four consecutive baseball state tournaments along with scorekeeper Jimmy LaFleur, reserve outfielder Herbert “Butch” LaFleur, first baseman L.O. Campbell, and pitcher and shortstop Eugene “Tojo” Fontenot.
“The season was super,” said “Butch” about that championship season in 1958. “Our pitcher Leonard ‘Pompey’ Coreil was super. He was the best athlete that ever came out of Ville Platte. He got a scholarship to LSU in baseball and football. He was a super athlete.”
Jimmy said of Coreil, “‘Pompey’ had two 20-strikeout games, two 17-strikeout games, and a 19-strikeout game. They could actually sit down behind him in the infield.”
“The season was slow starting; however, we had high hopes,” Fontenot said. “We were all seniors and built each other up letting each other know that we had the ability and the potential.”
The tide of the season turned midway through the year with a change in the starting catcher after a couple losses in a tournament. “‘Tojo,’ ‘Pompey,’ and I were walking back from the show,” said Reed. “Curney Fontenot stopped us and said that one of us had to catch.”
“Poor old ‘Chummy’ was catching, and he couldn’t reach second base,” Buller said.
Reed added, “We had lost a couple games, and that’s why we made the change.”
Buller interjected and told Reed, “We wouldn’t have won it without you catching. I promise you that we never would have won that state championship.”
Following a change behind the plate, the Trojans went through the rest of the season unscathed and made it back to the state tournament. Following a tough win against Washington, Sacred Heart then found itself playing St. Michael’s of Crowley for the championship in LSU’s old Alex Box Stadium. “St. Michael’s had an ace pitcher named Tiger LeBlanc, but he was burnt,” stated “Butch.” He added, “He couldn’t pitch at the state tournament.”
“There was no fence in the back,” said Jimmy. “It was bamboo all the way in the back. One of the balls that we hit got through the infield, got through the outfield, and rolled about 500-feet. It rolled all the way to the bamboo and cleared the bases.”
With the Trojans leading by four runs, the game was called on account of rain in the fourth inning. That meant that the game would have to be made up a week later.
“During the week, there was a coin flip via telephone to see where the game would be played for the finals,” Fontenot said. “We lost the coin flip. We put our heads down, hugged each other, and said we still have to go to Crowley.”
The week off also meant that the Trojans would have to face a rested LeBlanc, who went on to pitch for LSU. “The season ended kind of rough for me,” Campbell said. “I struck out a lot in that final game. All (LeBlanc) threw was curveballs. I swung and missed at every one.”
“Everybody else missed it, too,” Buller said.
Opposing LeBlanc on the mound for the Trojans was Coreil, and each pitcher only allowed one hit a piece.
According to Jimmy, the Trojan leadoff hitter “got on base on a scratch hit. He stole second base, and a fielder’s choice brought him to third. ‘Tojo’ then bunted him in to score on a squeeze.”
The only other hit in the game came with two outs in the last inning. “A guy (for St. Michael’s) got a hit, and they put in a pinch runner with the score 1-0,” recounted Reed. “I went to the mound and had a little conference. I said the first pitch was going to be a fastball for a strike and the second pitch would be a pitchout. On the second pitch, the runner took off running, and I had him. When he got to second base, ‘Tojo’ was taking his shoes off.”
That pick-off at second base ended the game and caused the Trojans to bring the championship home to Ville Platte. “It was big because it was the first,” Fontenot said. “We were the inaugural team to win it. We had all of Ville Platte supporting us, and we had half of Ville Platte at Crowley. It was on live radio, and we had our pastor from Sacred Heart Msgr. J.M. Bourgeois to present the trophy. We had a big steak supper waiting for us after the game.”
“We had been trying for years, and we did it our senior year,” he continued. “That year was our last hope, and we had a lot to fight for.”