The New Orleans Boosters had to wait two years, but the Louisiana franchise finally will defend its AAABA Tournament crown this week.
Celebrating 75 years as a AAABA franchise, New Orleans already made an historic trip by taking a flight directly into Johnstown for the first time.
“It’s hard for me to completely wrap my brain around that number, 75,” said first-year Boosters manager Joey Latino, who previously spent two seasons as an assistant coach. “It really is impactful when you think about it.
“A roster of 20 boys coming up to Johnstown every year, the numbers really become staggering. Just to be part of the tradition that is the New Orleans Boosters is really special to me. I’m really honored to be in this position in our 75th year.”
With Saturday’s travel day behind them, the Boosters now will get to work on the field as the 76th AAABA Tournament begins on Monday at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point and outlying fields throughout the region. New Orleans won the 2019 championship by defeating Johnstown Martella’s Pharmacy.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 tournament.
“Our team is entirely different save for one boy, Hunter Draper, a left-handed pitcher,” said Latino, referring to the 2019 champs. “I like our squad. I think we have the right players. I think our strength is our pitching. We’re very deep on the mound.
“Over the last week or so, we’ve hit our stride offensively as well. Our lineup is starting to take shape. Defensively, we’re very sound as well.”
Latino mentioned pitchers Dwain Guice, a right-hander from Delgado Community College in New Orleans; Turner Toms, a left-hander from Panola College in Carthage, Texas; Devin DeSandro, a righty from Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana; and Carson Lore, a righty from Delgado.
“This is a team that really doesn’t have a standout star,” Latino said. “We have a lot of good hitters on any given day. We’ve had some good performances from our pitchers the last couple weeks.
“On any given day, they can get the job done,” he said. “That’s a good luxury to have.”
Latino touted shortstop Christian Westcott of Southeastern Louisiana University as “probably our heaviest hitter.”
“Our first three hitters really set the tone,” Latino said, noting the potential of sluggers Brady Faust of the University of Southern Mississippi and Brayden Caskey of Delgado
“Our 3, 4 and 5 are good hitters,” Latino said.
“They are capable of hitting long balls, but more often than not, they’ll hit doubles. We have some speed up and down the lineup, so we will play some small ball. We have different ways to attack an opposing pitcher.”
New Orleans made its first AAABA Tournament appearance in 1946 when the event was held in Washington, D.C., for one year. The team has made Johnstown a regular stop each August since then.
New Orleans has won 16 AAABA Tournament titles and finished as runner-up 12 times while appearing in 357 games.
“The tremendous hospitality, warmth and receptive nature of Johnstown is a real treat,” Latino said. “We told our guys they really embrace you here. It’s a great event, extremely well-run from top to bottom. That’s the thing that really stood out to me.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.