St. Mary’s to honor 1965 baseball state champions Friday, April 9

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From left are Joe St. Andre, Skeeter Henry, Mike Mondello and Coach Joe Sampite.

At the start of the 1965 Louisiana high school baseball season, St. Mary’s Catholic School was one of the least likely teams to win a state championship. For starters, in 1964, the team did not field a baseball team when its former coach decided that his players should run track to be ready for the 1965 basketball season.

By 1965, St. Mary’s had a new head coach, Joe Sampite, who was originally from Cloutierville and had been hired from Jesuit High School in Shreveport to teach and coach the baseball and basketball teams. With very little, if any, money for an assistant, Coach Sampite recruited Billy Grisham, a senior at Northwestern State College, who had previously refereed several St. Mary’s basketball games to serve as his first base coach.

Sampite soon discovered that his program had additional pressing issues, including that the team only had one uniform, which was later provided to the only freshman on the team, Gary DeBlieux. As Sampite searched far and wide for uniforms, the City of Natchitoches’ Recreational Department came to the team’s rescue when it loaned St. Mary’s a set of uniforms worn by the Natchitoches American Legion summer league team.

In addition, there were also significant problems with numerous holes in the school’s field at Highland Park, which had been made by an infestation of hogs that had wallowed parts of it. As the season began, Coach Sampite soon discovered that what his team may have lacked in “high end fashion” it made up with their ability to play “America’s Past Time.”

At the end of the regular season, St. Mary’s record was 8-3 and they started their regional play-off run by sweeping Verda High School. St. Mary’s quarterfinal game was played at Alex Box Stadium on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. Behind lefty ace, Carl “Skeeter” Henry, who struck out 12 batters, and some timely hitting, St. Mary’s edged Mer Rouge High School, 2-0, in its quarterfinal game.

While in Baton Rouge, Mother Nature intervened and it began to rain. No matter the amount of pleading or the prayers said, the rain would not stop and St. Mary’s semi-final game against Edgard was moved to Bringhurst Field in Alexandria. The game against Edgard was a classic pitcher’s duel, with St. Mary’s getting one run, which was all Skeeter Henry needed as he struck out 14 Edgard batters. The win placed St. Mary’s in the Class C finals against Lisbon High School, a powerhouse program, which had won four of the past five Class C State Championships.

As the team prepared for its final game, Mother Nature again struck and the game was rained out. By this time, the school year had ended and one week later, the finals were moved to Spar Stadium in Shreveport. The game started off with Henry walking the first two Lisbon batters, but he recovered quickly to strike out the next seven. In the third inning, St. Mary’s scored two runs when Richard Zulick walked and stole second, one of eight steals that St. Mary’s had that day, and scored on Mike Mondello’s single. Soon after, Mondello scored on an errant throw into left field while stealing third base.

Members of the 1965 St. Mary’s baseball team, which captured the State Class C title include, front row from left, Henry Lemoine, Gere Thomas, Larry DeBlieux, Jerry Roshto, Mike Henry, Reynold Sorgee, Paul Keyser and Gary DeBlieux. On second row are Coach Joe Sampite, Tilden LeVasseur, Richard Zulick, Joe Payne Williams, Carl (Skeeter) Henry, Michael Mondello, Fred Robichaux and Joe St. Andre.

In the sixth inning, St. Mary’s scored an additional run when Joe Payne Williams singled Henry home and in the seventh inning, Joe St. Andre put the game out of reach when he hit a Lisbon pitch more than 330 feet out of Spar Stadium, the first high school player to accomplish the feat that year. With a 4-0 lead, Henry ended Lipson’s chance of winning another state championship by striking out 16 of its batters, including the final out. The 1965 season ended with St. Mary’s first state championship in any sport.

Sampite was named Class C Co-Coach of the Year and Henry, St. Andre and Mondello were named to the Class C All-State Baseball Team.

This Friday, April 9 at 6 p.m., St. Mary’s Catholic School will honor its 1965 state baseball championship team prior to its game against Many High School. The St. Mary’s administration, coaches, parents and students appreciate the members of the 1965 State Championship Team for their past and continued support of the school.