Mental Toughness Training leads to Historic Season
Westgate's Cinderella run in baseball playoffs started with the words 'I promise'
James Bewers, The Daily AdvertiserPublished 9:12 p.m. CT May 10, 2018
The story of how the 2018 Westgate baseball team became the lowest seed to reach the LHSAA state baseball tournament, in its current format, began with the words “I promise.”
That’s how Tigers first-year coach David Angeron started off a contract he penned in early April, intent on making each of his players sign it. It’s something he borrowed from Jimbo Fisher, the former coach of his favorite college football team, the Florida State Seminoles.
Because like Fisher’s 2016 squad — which started that season 3-2, including a 43-point loss to Louisville — Angeron’s team looked more like a collection of individuals than a cohesive unit. Westgate players would let external factors, like umpires and opposing players and fans, affect their mentality.
By the end of March, Westgate was 8-13, including five losses by one run. Another one-run loss came in their first game of April.
“We would allow outside things to affect us mentally — either a bad call by the umpire or one of the other players trash talking to us or the fans talking would rattle us,” Angeron said. “We would just lose focus, and we had to get over that mental hump.”
So Angeron made his players promise to put forth maximum effort, play with a positive attitude and not let adversity or outside noise break their spirit. Things didn’t suddenly improve. Westgate won just three of their remaining 10 regular season games, including two more one-run losses, but he could see that his players had bought into a team concept.
His players had become mentally stronger. They just needed to put it together in all three phases of the game — pitching, hitting and defense. Nine seniors also realized their season would come to an end soon if they didn’t act.
“Once we signed that contract, we started kind of pulling things together,” Angeron said. “Now they’re playing well together. They believe in each other.”
So that’s why Angeron isn’t surprised that his club, given the No. 31 in the Class 4A playoffs, will play third-seeded DeRidder in the semifinals at 1:30 p.m. Friday on Field at McMurry Park in Sulphur. Westgate knocked off second-seeded Tioga in the first round, outlasted No. 18 Warren East in a best-of-three regional series and swept district foe Rayne in the quarterfinals.
Since 2008, the lowest seed to reach the state tournament was St. Louis as the No. 25 seed in the 2010 Class 4A playoffs. In that same span, Catholic-Baton Rouge is the lowest-seeded champion ever, taking home the Class 5A title in 2013 at the No. 21 seed.
“It’s just an extra thing for us,” Angeron said when asked about making history. “We’re going in with the same mentality, whether we’re the No. 1 seed or the No. 32 seed. We’re going to play hard and leave it between the lines.”
Despite being 10 games under .500 entering the playoffs, the Tigers snuck into the playoff base on their strength of the schedule. On top of beating No. 23 Rayne in the quarterfinals, their league, District 4-4A, includes two other semifinalist, St. Thomas More and Teurlings.
“There were few weeks we were kind of worried we might not get in,” Angeron said. “But as we got closer to the end, I noticed that our strength of schedule was going to keep us there. Teams behind us started falling further and further behind. We knew going in our schedule was tough, and it would help us when we got to this level.”
The postseason victories have been impressive, too. All have come on the road. The Tigers, led by ace Darien Charles, exacted revenge on Tioga, which eliminated them in the last two playoffs. In New Orleans, they bounced back from a game two loss to Warren Easton to win the series finale 8-7.
In the quarterfinals at Rayne, Westgate trailed 4-0 in the sixth before scoring five unanswered runs.
Now Angeron take his team to Sulphur, a place where he recently watched his son play for two state titles as part of the Central Catholic baseball program. Westgate hasn’t been to the semifinals since 2003, when it lost to DeRidder in the state finals.
“I’ve been there the last couple of years pulling (for my son),” Angeron said, “Seeing the atmosphere, I’m trying to explain to these guys what it’s going to take to get through these next two games.”