Rummel-Jesuit final brings back memories of two past title matchups

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Rummel vs Jesuit 1980

It was 43 years ago this month.

But it lives today on the top of Steve Riley’s Facebook page.

Riley’s solo home run in the bottom of the sixth inning lifted Jesuit to a 3-2 victory over Rummel for the 1980 Class AAAA state championship at the old Alex Box Stadium.

The Raiders and Blue Jays met again for a state title in Class 5A in 1997, with Rummel getting revenge, 5-1.

Saturday afternoon at 5 at McMurry Park in Sulphur, the teams meet a third time for a state championship, this time in Division I select.

It wasn’t long after Rummel knocked out top-seeded Catholic and Jesuit defeated Pineville Thursday afternoon in the semifinals that the memories of title games past rushed back to those who were in the dugouts on May 24, 1980, and May 17, 1997.


“I still get asked about it,” Steve Riley said Friday. “It still thrills me when someone tells me they were there that night.”

Because of rain, it took almost a week for Rummel and Jesuit to finally meet for the AAAA title – their fifth meeting of the season.

In an era where the Catholic League and many other districts played a double-round-robin schedule and determined champions by the winner of each round, Jesuit won the first two meetings that year but tied Rummel for the second-round title.

The Raiders won the second-round playoff game, then won again for the league title to go into the playoffs as the district champion.

After four rounds of playoff action that took even longer because of multiple rain delays and rainouts at Alex Box, the uber-talented teams – the game featured as many as 20 players who went on to play Division I baseball – met for the title seven days after it was originally scheduled.

Riley led off the bottom of the sixth of a 2-2 game, facing Rummel left-hander Dale Stokes.

The Jesuit catcher still remembers the pitch sequence – fastball for a strike, curveball for a ball, swing-and-miss fastball to make the count 1-2.

“I was dug in and fixed on (Stokes) throwing a curve ball,” Riley recalled. “I just golfed it out.

“Probably,” he understated, “one of my better at bats of my career.”

With a one-run lead and riding the adrenaline of the previous inning, reliever Brian Shearman struck out the side in the top of the seventh inning to preserve the victory and Jesuit’s second consecutive state title.

“He had a little bit of natural movement,” Riley said of Shearman. “I was putting down two fingers (for a curve) and he’d be starting his windup and shaking me off.”

The head coaches that night are both in the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame – Frank Misuraca at Jesuit, Larry Schneider at Rummel.

Wally Pontiff was Schneider’s assistant.

“I felt we lost the game in the first inning,” Pontiff said. “We had a run in and the bases loaded and hit the ball back to the pitcher,” Jesuit’s Dickie Wentz, who started a home-to-first double play to end the inning.

Both Pontiff and Riley recalled a play in Jesuit’s quarterfinal victory over Broadmoor in which Blue Jay center fielder Warren Cuntz made a game-saving catch.

“I didn’t think there was any way Cuntz was going to catch it,” Riley said. “His foot went out from underneath it and he caught it sliding.”

When it was over, the Rummel coaches told their team to hold their heads high.

“When we walked onto that bus, we told them we’re coming back next year,” Pontiff said.

Twelve months later, Rummel went back to Alex Box and won the 1981 AAAA title.


Seventeen years later, the Raiders and Blue Jays met again for the state title in Louisiana’s highest classification, which was now 5A.

The state tournament – still an eight-team event over two days – took place at Acadian Ballpark in New Iberia.

Rummel, with Frank Cazeaux in his first stint as head coach, defeated Catholic 3-2 in the quarterfinals and West Monroe 8-5 in the semifinals, while Jesuit took out Covington 8-6 and East Ascension 6-4 to set up the all-Catholic League final.

Tim Nugent, who would go on to be named Gatorade Player of the Year in Louisiana, pitched a complete game against Catholic, and Martin LaRocca pitched the semifinal.

That left the Raiders’ No. 3 starter, Mike Alexander, to take the ball against Jesuit. He pitched brilliantly for 6 1/3 innings before getting into a seventh-inning jam.

Let Nugent tell the story.

“I can promise you I was begging (Cazeaux) to start that game,” Nugent said. “The pitching rules (today) are more stringent than it was back then. Coach Cazeaux, he wouldn’t let me go. I was familiar with Jesuit. I had pitched against them twice.

“They had a couple of guys on late and he gave me the call. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Nugent finished the game with a pair of strikeouts to preserve a 5-1 Rummel victory, evening the score in the state championship matchups at one win apiece.

Jesuit pitcher Barth Melius, in the Virgin Islands Friday, was recalling that weekend as if it was yesterday.

“So many of us are still good friends, one side or the other,” said Melius, who went on to pitch at Tulane. “Timmy (Nugent) was my best friend since I was 11-12 years old and were only on one team together.

“I couldn’t even tell you how many innings I pitched. I know Timmy pitched a bunch too. Mike (Alexander) did a great job for them.”

“It’s been a long time,” Nugent said, “but there’s a lot of things I remember vividly.”

While Nugent was on the winning side on that Saturday night in New Iberia, but four years later, Melius and his Tulane teammates defeated Nugent and LSU in the super regional at Zephyr Field.


When Rummel closed out a win over Catholic and Jesuit rallied to defeat Pineville Thursday, the players who played 43 and 26 years ago were all communicating in ways that didn’t exist when they played the game.

“I’ve got a text thread with all of the seniors from that team,” Riley said.

After both teams won Thursday, “(Former Rummel catcher) Jeff Winchester put the article on Facebook and tagged a bunch of people,” Melius said.

Regardless of the method of communication, one thing was common to all who were reflecting on past championship games – they wished the title game was less than three hours away, or better yet, in New Orleans.


The common thread that passes through 1980, 1997 and 2023 is Cazeaux.

He was a senior pitcher on the 1980 team, joining with Stokes and Mike Membreno to form a deep Raider rotation.

“In 1980, we had won the district and felt we were the better team,” Cazeaux said. “That day, they were better than us. They were a very talented team but we were a very talented team.

“What I do remember about that year is that both teams were very good friends.”

Riley reinforced that concept. “Even though we were competitors,” he said, “a lot of those guys hung out together.”

Cazeaux came back to Rummel in 1993 as an assistant to Schneider, and when Schneider retired following the 1995 season, Cazeaux became head coach, taking Rummel to the school’s fifth state title two years later.

“During that season, we beat (Jesuit) twice in district,” Cazeaux said. “We had two rough roads (to get to the finals), Catholic and West Monroe.

“Mikey Alexander might have made two starts the whole year. I knew I had Timmy (Nugent) for an inning if I needed him.”

Another common bond, on different sides the first two meetings, was Pontiff. After coaching in the first title game, he watched the second from the stands as his son Wally Jr. played for Jesuit.

“Frank does a great job with his team,” said Pontiff. “He’s like a son to me.”

Four years ago, Cazeaux returned to Severn as head baseball coach, and is one win away from the school’s sixth title.

“We know more about Jesuit than we knew about Pineville,” Cazeaux said. “The kids are going to compete their tails off against each other. It has the makings of a great day.

“To be honest, if you’re going to win it, you want to beat Jesuit. They’ve got a rich tradition” – to the tune of a record 21 state championships.


Amazingly, this is the first time since that 1997 night in New Iberia that two Catholic League teams are meeting for a state title.

It’s the seventh time overall that two league foes have faced off with the state championship on the line, and including Saturday’s matchup, the last six have featured either the Raiders or Blue Jays.

In 1988, De La Salle defeated Jesuit 5-3. One year earlier, it was Rummel defeating Holy Cross 10-7.

Jesuit knocked off Brother Martin for the 1985 title, 12-4. Three years prior to the first Jesuit-Rummel title matchup, De La Salle defeated Chalmette 6-5 to win the AAAA title in 1977.

In the quarter-century-plus since the last matchup, the balance of power in the state has shifted somewhat, perhaps the effect of Skip Bertman’s success at LSU creating statewide interest in the sport at a younger level. Prior to Bertman’s arrival, the strongest programs in the state were focused in New Orleans and Lafayette.


They’ll be watching and keeping up Saturday in lots of different ways, many of which didn’t exist in 1997.

Nugent was at the semifinal win Thursday and is headed west on I-10 again Saturday.

“I’ve always been a supporter of the program,” he said. “A lot of my development was because of (Cazeaux). I have an eighth grader at Rummel and want him to experience those things.”

His childhood best friend, Melius, will be on a beach in St. Thomas, using the World Wide Web to keep up.

“I’m hearing a lot of people are coming up,” Cazeaux said.

Regardless of the site, or the method, it will be a game that captures the area’s attention – just like it did in 1980 and 1997.

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Lenny Vangilder


Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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