Jackson laid out for them what their season could be like. Either the squad could play up to its ability and win a state championship or they could watch their season wilt away.
Whatever was specifically said in the meeting, it worked, as the Eagles won 21 of their next 23 games en route to a District 8-1A co-championship with Hanson Memorial and a Class 1A state title after defeating Cedar Creek.
Their lone losses during that stretch were identical 6-5 defeats at the hands of District 8-1A foes, Gueydan and Hanson Memorial.
“That was crazy,” David Burch, a freshman starter on the 2002 squad who went on to pitch at the University of New Orleans, recalled of that meeting. “(It was the) absolute turning point in that season.”
On Saturday, Burch and other players and coaches on that Eagles’ team gathered to remember that season and was honored before the current team’s game against Houma Christian in the CCHS Tournament.
Ironically, the heart-to-heart talk was held in 2002 on the Monday following the Eagles’ baseball tournament
It was pitching that was a constant during that 2002 season as seniors Brandt Sanders and Jeremy Whipple formed the centerpiece of the squad.
Both oftentimes shut down opposing offenses. Both finished the year with identical 11-2 records. And, both were selected first-team Class 1A All-State following that season along with Josh Courtney, Jerald Watson and Eric Patureau.
In fact, Sanders finished that season with about 140 strikeouts, while Whipple finished with about 130.
They were so dominant that in three of the Eagles’ five playoff games, they limited opponents to two hits or less. Sanders threw a two-hitter in the Eagles’ 2-0 bi-district victory against Ridgewood Prep, while Whipple followed with a two-hitter against the now-defunct Boothville-Venice Oilers in a 9-0 regional round victory.
Again in the finals, Sanders fired a two-hitter and recorded 12 strikeouts in the Eagles’ state championship win against Cedar Creek.
“I got bored at shortstop!” Josh Courtney, a senior on that squad, joked Saturday of Sanders’ success.
As for what helped the team succeed, Burch said it was that adversity early on.
For Courtney, the assistance went back a bit further to the 2001 Class 1A semifinals when the Eagles lost to Oak Grove, 4-2, in 10 innings.
“Coming back our senior year, we really didn’t have much doubt that we were going to have a chance to go all the way and win it,” said Courtney, who now lives in Birmingham and whose young brother, Barron, plays on the current CCHS squad. “It was just a matter of doing it. We had such an incredible pitching staff, great defense and a more incredible lineup. It was just putting it all together. Once we got to that point, it was very, very tough to beat (us). Very tough to beat.”
Just ask Oak Grove, who went on to win the state championship in 2001.
When the two teams met in 2002, the Tigers’ Ty Rollinson, who went the entire 10 innings to defeat the Eagles the year before, took the mound again.
This time, though, Oak Grove was shelled for 10 runs in the third inning en route to a 10-0 CCHS victory in five innings.
“We pretty much knew once we won that game we weren’t losing the state championship game,” Burch said.
The Eagles won the state championship game with ease, and did it against Cedar Creek, who entered the state championship game with a 32-1 record. The squad featured the top pitcher in the state in 2002, senior Adam Arrant, who entered the championship game with a 14-0 record and went on to sign with the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
“He was one of those guys that had the name, had the accolades and whatnot, but I really remember going into the game and really thinking to myself it didn’t matter who it was,” Courtney said. “It could have been Roger Clemens, and there was nothing that was going to stop that team. From the first inning to the last … I really don’t think the guy ever had a chance. I really don’t. There was nothing that was going to beat that team.”
Courtney was right as the Eagles roughed up Cedar Creek for six unearned runs and pounded out nine hits off Arrant.
As for Sanders, the one-hit he surrendered in the ballgame was a leadoff single to Cedar Creek’s first batter of the game. Cedar Creek would score its lone run in the first inning, but for the rest of the game, no Cedar Creek runner would advance past second base.
“We went in there, and we just … beat them,” Burch said. “The seniors had already had a state championship (as freshmen in 1999), so they knew what it was like to get to that point, and we were just poised to make a run that year.”
Sanders, who was selected Class 1A All-State MVP after that season, got to know Arrant when he played with him in summer ball after that season.
“To beat that guy on any given day is a great feat,” Sanders said.
There were more great feats for that squad and for the ones’ that followed.
From the 2002 squad, seven players went on to play Division 1 baseball.
Sophomore center fielder Jerald Watson and Sanders were selected to play professionally. Watson was drafted by the Florida Marlins following his senior season, while Sanders played for a year in the Cleveland Indians’ organization after a four-year career at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Jackson, who also served as the head football coach and athletic director at CCHS, now is the head football coach at the University of Arkansas-Monticello.
The 2002 championship was the first of three championships in five years as the Eagles clinched Class 1A championships in 2004 and 2005.