By Keisha Swafford, exclusive to the Times
In 1998, Natchitoches Central Chiefs made the 5A baseball playoffs and competed in the first round against Mandeville High School Skippers. With over 60 Class 5A schools in the state, the team has to rank in the top 32 to make the playoffs. Over the next 20 years, every team fought hard, but fell short in ranking among the top 32. This year, under the leadership of all new coaches, including Head Coach Richard Partridge and Assistant Coaches Regan Kaufman, Trent Partridge, Tyler Partridge, Christopher Souileau and Mark Dawson, the Chiefs made history and closed their season at #21 in the state, earning them a spot in the bi-district (first) round of the playoffs.
What has Coach Richard Patridge done that no other coach in the past has done? The message of “family” has been emphasized by Coach Partridge from the beginning and exemplified from leadership down. There is an incredible group of six seniors who have led the team by example with their work ethic, belief in the coaches’ program, belief in themselves and the team, support of their teammates, production on the field, and grind to the end. Those seniors include #1 Haydon Helms, #6 Collin Poleman, #7 Adam Hudson, #11 Cody Hamous, #21 Joshua Fortenberry and #25 Garrett Wells. T
he Chiefs started the game with leadoff hitter Richard Lindsey getting a single fly ball into left field to give the Chiefs a runner on base. Up next for the Chiefs, Tristan Neitte strikes out next leaving Lindsey on first base. Haydon Helms makes his way to the plate, doubling to left field which in turn allowed Lindsey to score a run giving the Chiefs a 1-0 lead over the Rebels. Josh Fortenberry singled on a hit towards third base giving the Chiefs two base runners.
AJ Walter comes to the plate hitting a pop fly to the pitcher giving the Chiefs their second out. Taken the mound for the Chiefs was senior Haydon Helms who allowed only one hit while walking one player but surrendered zero runs for the Rebels first at-bat keeping the score 1-0 in favor of the Chiefs. Both teams had trouble scoring until the West Monroe Rebels put up two runs in the fourth inning making the score 2-1 Rebels. At the top of the 6th, the Chiefs dominated on offense as they ran 9 straight runs. Getting the ball rolling was Fortenberry who took first base after being walked. Next up, Walter was hit by a pitch advancing him to first and moving Fortenberry over to second base.
Cody Hamous was next up to bat and he advanced to first after being walked. Now with the bases loaded, Brady Sers singled to center field allowing Fortenberry to score, to knot it up 2-2. Wells came to the plate next singling on a line drive to center field, scoring Hamous, while Sers moved over to third base. Makalen Jefferson comes in as a courtesy runner for Wells. Keeping the scoring alive for the Chiefs was Connor Stokes who singled on a line drive to right field, scoring Sers, while Jefferson advanced to second base. Back to the plate, Richard Lindsey hit a sacrifice fly to third moving Jefferson to third base and Derrick Payne to second base, giving the Chiefs their first out of the inning.
Tristan Neitte was back at the plate. He advanced to first base after being walked on four balls. Helms hit a grounder reaching first base on a West Monroe second baseman’s error, courtesy runner Jason Monette in for Haydon Helms, Jefferson scores, Payne makes it to third and Neitte advances to second giving the Chiefs a 6-2 lead. Fortenberry returns to the plate doubling on a line drive to center field scoring Neitte to jump the lead to 8-2 Chiefs. The Chiefs were not finished scoring yet as Walter returned to the plate singling on a line drive to right field. Jason Monette scored making the score 9-2 in favor of the Chiefs.
Hamous strikes out on his next attempt at bat but Fortenberry scores on a passed ball making the score 10-2 Chiefs. Sers strikes out on his next attempt at bat retiring the inning for the Chiefs on offense. West Monroe scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning but it was not enough to help rally the Rebels giving the Chiefs the victory and the opportunity to advance into the playoffs.
Coach Richard Patridge on making it to the playoffs: “For me, it’s just another day but it means the world to them. It has been an incredible trip for us. For those who have been coaching as long as we have, it’s what we do. But for them, it was an emotional time. As a staff, all we need to do now is keep them relaxed and level-headed. Keep them focused and not allow them to do too much with their opportunity. Winning takes care of itself at the end of the day if everyone does their job.”
Senior Joshua Fortenberry on how he feels about making it to the playoffs: “For starters, I have never had more fun playing baseball in my life. The bond that I have with my teammates is irreplaceable and will always hold a special spot in my heart. I really feel special to be a member of the senior class that finally broke the playoff drought. However, that is just a stepping stone of where this program is headed. I know that the foundation that the coaching staff, the seniors, and I is strong and will be the basis of a dynasty-type program for years to come. I would also like to thank all of the parents that never stopped believing in this program, because the Lord knows that we gave them plenty of opportunities to. I would also like to thank my senior brothers because they never quit either and we always knew that we would do something special! And lastly, I would like to thank Coach Partridge for coming in and showing us how to win, because we knew how to play, but he taught us how to win.”
The Natchitoches Chiefs will travel to Denham Springs to take on the Yellow Jackets in the first round of the 5A playoffs on Tuesday, April. 24.