Choudrant baseball off to strong start

Landon Hennen and the Aggies are off to a good start under new head coach Joel Antley. (Photo by Stacey Harper, Snazzy Shenanigans Photography)

By T. Scott Boatright

The uniforms might be new, but it’s largely the same two-time defending state champion Choudrant Aggies baseball team that is off to a 4-1 start to open the 2023 season after pushing across a run in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday to earn a 1-0 home win over Sacred Heart..

Playing under the guidance of first-year head coach Joel Antley, a longtime assistant for his cousin and now-retired Tony Antley, a strong start for the Aggies should be no surprise for anyone.

“There’s not a lot of overhaul kind of change,” Joel Antley said. “I had been with Tony for 12 years and we have the same old-school mentality about baseball — that you’ve got to put the work in if you’re going to be successful. 

“Practices are running pretty much the same as they always have. With Tony also being principal in those last years, I’d run practice for the first hour to hour-and-a-half before he got out to the field anyway. So it’s not a big overhaul change for the kids. It’s the same kind of Choudrant Aggies baseball that they’re used to.”

Choudrant opened the season with a 13-2 home win over Red River before playing in a tournament in Alexandria where the Aggies fell to Alexandria Senior High 10-0 before defeating Jena 17-3 and Peabody 12-1.

“That loss to ASH was really closer than it seemed,” Antley said. “We made a couple of mistakes that gave them a few runs and we had a couple of chances we just didn’t take advantage of. So the game was really closer than the score looked. But early on I don’t want to stress our pitchers too much, so we’ll take that one, learn from it and move on.

“I think a lot of that is simply because we’re a year older and more experienced. We’re one year stronger and one year bigger, and that experience is helping us make really good decisions at the plate.  

Primarily providing the power for the Aggies this season will be seniors Landon Hennen, Bryce McGuire, Gavin Murphy and Kaden Bradshaw.

Murphy has two home runs already this season, including a grand slam, while Hennen and Bradshaw each have one. Bradshaw would have two except one was waved off in the loss to Alexandria because the first base umpire said he had called a timeout that Antley said no one had heard.

Last year Choudrant’s pitching rotation consisted primarily of Hennen and McGuire and Antley said that won’t change this season.

“We’ve pitched freshman Braden Bagwell some already because we’re just trying to get him some innings out there on the mound so we can put him in there when we get up in some of the games later on in the season. He’ll play that role for us.

“Then we have (sophomore) Colton Smith who’ll get quite a few innings in close games this year. But Hennen and McGuire are still our top two. And we also have (junior) Eli Callender, who’s still playing basketball. He’ll be in the mix there when he gets back. We’re staying around 60-70 pitches per game early on just trying to not overuse our arms.” 

Antley said Smith will be the first reliever the Aggies will look to early on but that Callender will be the primary first reliever once he gets into baseball shape.

“But Hennen and McGuire are definitely our 1A and 1B pitchers,” Antley said. “But those younger guys (Callender and Smith) will have to get some quality time on the mound this season because they’ll be our main two guys next year.”

Other than Callender, Aggies missing time on the diamond right now while competing in basketball playoffs are Tucker Batterton, Mike Jones, who’ll be Choudrant’s primary left fielder.

Who will join Jones in the outfield is one of the things that Antley is still trying to figure out.

“Mike will provide some more power that we’re missing right now,” Antley said. “He’s a good batter who squares the ball up pretty good. Everyone knows from basketball that he’s a pretty strong kid.”

TJ Smith is back to man first base.

“We’ll need him to step it up this year,” Antley said of Smith. He did well last year. But this year I have a feeling teams are going to be trying to bust up the top of our lineup — split those four seniors up and kind of pitcher around them. So the bottom half of that lineup is going to have to come through to try and make it detrimental to the other team to try and pitch around those top guys.”

Jackson Pyle is in the mix to be another of Choudrant’s outfielders trying to fill the void left by departed CHS graduates Austin Swift and Stone Weaver.

‘Pyle is a junior but hasn’t had much playing time coming into this season,” Antley said. “We’re still kind of in the looking phase of trying to see who’s permanently going to join Mike Jones to fill those other two outfield spots for us.”

Smith and Callender are expected to play second base to replace the departed Jackson Case with Callender also seeing some action at third.

Choudrant will return to action on Saturday for a doubleheader at Grant Parish HS.