Most local high school baseball teams are competing in Swampland play this summer.
Most, but not all.
For Vandebilt Catholic and Covenant Christian, they’re in a different summer league — one which their coaches believe comes with a unique set of advantages.
The Lions and Terriers are the only local clubs to play American Legion Baseball — a long-standing league that houses summer teams around the country.
Lions players play for the Southland Hogs — a club coached by CCA baseball coach Joe Teuton and which features several other prominent players around the area.
Vandebilt has its own American Legion team with just Terriers’ players. Both play a full summer schedule and say the reps get them ready for the challenges ahead.
“In American Legion, I think the competition is a little more stiff,” Vandebilt Catholic baseball coach Gee Cassard said. “And for us in high school ball, we know we’re in Division II, which is a very competitive division with some of the best teams in the state. This prepares us for that competition and it develops our younger players and gets them ready for the challenges we have ahead.”
The Hogs and Vandebilt are built differently, though each has a common goal of showcasing their players and developing them to their fullest potential.
The Hogs are a showcase team with CCA players combining with some of the top talent in the area to form multiple squads over multiple ages groups throughout the summer.
Teuton has been operating the Hogs program for decades, adding that it’s a treat to coach against some of the top players throughout the season, then bring them together for the summer.
The Hogs have several collegiate signees on their team this summer, even some players who are one year removed from high school, per new American Legion rules that allow 19-year-olds to play.
Teuton said lots of players have been seen and have received collegiate attention because of their work in the Hogs’ program, adding that the program is a labor of love for he and his family.
“It’s a pleasure and a joy to be around these kids,” Teuton said. “We have some very talented baseball players in this area and we’ve been blessed to work with a lot of them. This summer, we have a strong team and a good group of guys. We’ve been excited to see the kids develop and come together as a team.”
Teuton said since beginning the program, a fraternity has been built under the motto: “Hogs for Life.”
The coach said there’s no greater feeling in the world than when a former player comes back and shows his support for the team. Teuton said former players take pride in knowing that no matter where they go in life, they will always have the love and support of their former Hogs coaches and teammates to fall back on.
“It’s a tight-knit group,” Teuton said. “Once you’re a part of this, you’re always a part of this.”
For Vandebilt, the summer is set up a little differently.
Unlike the Hogs which welcome folks outside of CCA’s program, the Vandebilt team is specifically designed to take the future Terriers and make them better.
Cassard said that often puts his team behind the 8-ball competitively, because his team is often placed against showcase teams in head-to-head competition.
But that’s OK to Cassard, who said it’s teaching tool to his players to show them what they have to do if they want to become the best team that they can be.
For example, the Terriers are in the same American Legion Division as the Hogs. When the two compete, it’s, in essence, Vandebilt versus the local All-Stars.
“We know going in that in some games, if we don’t play the way that we’re capable of playing, it’s going to be a very, very long evening for us,” Cassard said. “But it brings out the best in the kids, the best in our coaches and it shows us what we have to do to get better and reach the goals that we have set for ourselves.”
For the Terriers, that goal-setting and team-building is important — especially this summer, because Vandebilt is trying to keep the momentum it built last season, winning their way to the Quarterfinals in the Division II State Playoffs.
Cassard said the team has some holes to plug, adding that replacing guys like pitcher Josh Shelly, utility man Dawson Martinez and Nicholls signee Kolby Dufrene will not be easy.
But the team also has a talented core group of players coming back — a group that Cassard said can replicate last year’s successes — if not surpass them — if they come together and gel like the 2019 team did.
Playing in the summer helps that transition.
“We’re excited about the group coming back, but we know we have some work to do,” Cassard said. “Last year, everyone fit into their roles and we had great chemistry. Next year, we think we can do that again, but it’s going to take work, and a lot of that work begins in the summer.” •