By: William Weathers
The seeds for such dreams were sewn long before they ever reached Catholic High School or LSU. They were played out on youth league fields when Jordan Romero '13 and Josh Smith '16 were first teammates with the Baton Rouge Tigers, finishing as high as third in a national tournament.
Romero was the first to arrive at Catholic High, followed a year later by Nick Coomes '14 and eventually Smith, then a freshman, who teamed together in 2013 for Coach Brad Bass and led the Bears to a Class 5A state championship. Four years later they have the unique opportunity to surpass their one shining moment at the high school level by reaching the summit of the college baseball mountain. “You couldn’t write it any better,” Romero, a senior designated/catcher for the Tigers and former Class 5A Player of Year at Catholic. “It’s pretty special and we kind of talked about it when everyone got here. It’s all fallen into place. Hopefully we can make something special out of it.”
Fourth-seeded LSU (48-17) begins its quest for the program’s seventh national championship, opening play in the College World Series against third-seeded Florida State (45-21), Saturday at 7 p.m. in T.D. Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. “It’s awesome to be able to experience this with two of my better friends,” said Smith, a freshman third baseman. “It’s been a long journey for us. We got to play at LSU together and so far it’s been a dream come true to be with those guys.”
LSU’s reeled off 16 consecutive victories, setting the stage for a dramatic conclusion to the 2017 season. Included in that torrid stretch is a share of the Southeastern Conference overall championship, the outright SEC Western Conference crown, the league’s postseason title and advancement through the NCAA regional and super regionals.
Now, the moment they’ve envisioned for so long, has arrived and to top it off – Romero, Coomes and Smith - are afforded the chance of a lifetime, their last as teammates, to lead LSU to its first national baseball crown since 2009. “We’ve grown up around winners, it’s instilled in you,” Romero said. “You wouldn’t want it any other way with a chance to win a championship at the highest level.”
Their connections preceded their brief time together at Catholic where Romero and Coomes were friends in middle school, wound up attending LSU-Eunice where they were part of a Division II national championship in 2015. Romero signed with LSU after his sophomore year with Coomes following suit a year later. “We’ve roomed together on road trips,” Coomes said. “When we get together (including Smith) everyone’s picking on each other. It’s a constant family and that comes from Catholic which is a constant family being instilled from Coach Bass. It’s awesome we get to share this experience together.”
It didn’t take Romero long to realize Smith’s potential once he reached Catholic, becoming only the second freshman during Romero’s career to play on the varsity team other than third base Austin Nola. So, when Smith opted to sign with LSU in November of 2016, Romero knew exactly what the Tigers were getting. “I told everyone he was going to be something special,” Romero said. “We sit next to each other on the bus and give each other a hard time. He’s that annoying little brother. There’s a funny cockiness to him, but I love him.”
Coomes and Smith were closer, growing up a street apart from one another in Greenwell Springs and played football and baseball together when they were 9-10-years-old. They attended St. Alphonsus Catholic and regularly rode together with Coomes picking him up for the drive to Catholic High. They also played next to each other during the Bears run to the Class 5A title in ’13 when Smith was moved from third base to shortstop and Coomes taking over at third. “He’s always been there for me,” Smith said of Coomes. “The camaraderie we had on that team was something special. We all wanted everyone to do well.”
That remains a constant for the Catholic High trio, despite their varying degrees of success this season. A year after hitting .297 with nine homers and 41 RBIs, Romero’s role has diminished. Romero, who has started in 21 of 35 games, has batted .232 with a homer and 12 RBIs. He hasn’t committed an error in 52 chances. “It’s easy to become selfish and find excuses for why you’re not playing,” Romero said. “It’s important as a senior leader, whether you’re on or off the field, to show an unselfish mentality. They’re not going to remember your batting average if your dogpiling at the end of the year.”
Coomes, who earned All-State honors at Catholic, was recruited as both a catcher and third baseman. Just over halfway through the season he wound up finding a home at first base where he started until suffering a thumb injury during regional play. Coomes has a .294 average with a pair of homers, 24 RBIs and seven doubles in 48 games. He’s only committed three errors in 269 total chances for a .989 fielding percentage. “In the fall coach (Paul Mainieri) mentioned there was a chance I could play first base,” Coomes. “I worked on it a little in the spring and then I played it in the ULL game. It worked out well for me.”
Smith’s started in all but one of LSU’s games and has impacted the team’s success with both his glove at third base and bat.
The former two-time All-State selection at shortstop, Smith’s transition to third couldn’t have been smoother with a .946 fielding percentage and spot on the SEC’s All-Defensive team. Smith has also been a weapon in LSU’s diverse lineup, batting .289 with 15 doubles (second best of team), four homers and 43 RBIs (tied for third on team).
Moreover Smith, a selection to the All-SEC Freshman team, teamed with Coomes for a rare moment on April 18 with his first collegiate homer – one batter after Coomes did the same thing with Romero aboard in a 10-4 win over Lamar. During the Tigers 4-2 victory over Arkansas in the SEC championship game, Coomes tied the game on a bases loaded walk in the fourth inning and Smith followed with an RBI-single, providing the game-winning run. “It would be a dream come true to win a state championship, a SEC championship and a national championship with these guys and for the Catholic High community,” Smith said. “I don’t know if anyone’s ever done it. We can do something really special.”