By T. Scott Boatright
There’s no question Louisiana Tech’s baseball team has been red hot over the past 11 days.
After all, the Bulldogs had to defeat Alabama 10-8 Sunday afternoon to get a chance at a rematch against North Carolina State, which had beaten them on Saturday.
But Lady Luck’s shooting star the Bulldogs had been riding finally burned itself Sunday night against an even hotter squad.
North Carolina State, the No. 2 at the NCAA Ruston Baseball Regional, rode a 19-hit performance as the Wolfpack galloped past the Bulldogs 14-7 to go unbeaten through the regionals and advance to a Super Regional next weekend.
It was in the fifth and sixth innings that the Wolfpack raced away from the Bulldogs.
Tech built a 4-0 lead after three at bats before the North Carolina State hitters finally got into the swing of things, cutting the Diamond Dogs’ advantage to 4-3 after four innings of play.
And the Bulldogs stretched their lead to 5-3 in the top of the fifth as Parker Bates, who homered in his first at bat to give Tech a 2-0 lead in the opening stanza, tripled in Hunter Wells.
But then came six runs on six hits by the Wolf Pack in the bottom of the fifth, with much of that damage done on a grand slam by shortstop Devonte Brown, who finished with a 2-for-5 batting performance with five RBIs.
The Wolf Pack was back at it in the bottom of the sixth, plating another four runs on four hits to take a commanding 13-5 advantage.
But Tech never stopped battling, urged on by a fanatical fan base packing “The Love Shack.” At the top of the seventh inning, the outfield berm filled with Tech students began chanting “We Are” with the grandstand crowd following by yelling “Bulldogs,” just as had become commonplace at Tech football and basketball games.
And the Diamond ‘Dogs gave the crowd something to continue cheering about, as Wells launched a two-run dinger to cut the NC State lead to 13-7.
But this night went to the Wolf Pack, who added a run in the bottom of the eighth inning before holding the Bulldogs to one single in the top of the ninth to close things out.
Bates, the all-time leader in games played at Louisiana Tech with 226 appearances in a Bulldog uniform, hit a pair of two-run homers in the first and third innings while Wells, who homered and finished the season as the team leader in home runs (14), total bases, batting average (.385) and hits (101). Wells, Tech’s all-time hits leader, added one last mark to the program’s record books in his last at bat in the ninth hit as his infield single chalked up his 169th total base of the season.
And after the game ended, and after giving the Wolfpack the opportunity for an onfield celebration, the Diamond ‘Dogs stepped out of their dugout to a standing ovation from Tech Nation as the team tipped their hands toward the stands around the field in a similar show of appreciation.
“You never want it to end but I couldn’t be more proud of a group of young men,” said Tech coach Lane Burroughs after the game. “They don’t understand, but this is a dream team to coach. They’re not only good players, they’re high character young men. They take care of their business in the classroom for the most part. They’re just very high-character dudes. … They’re easy to coach, they love to play and love to be around each other.”
Burroughs admitted it will be hard to see players like Bates and Wells move on.
“It’s going to be hard not writing Bates and Wells on that lineup,” Burroughs said. “They’ve been part of it for so long. I’m going to miss those guys. We were very brief with our comments (on the field right after the game ended). It was too soon. We’ll take (today) off and we’ll have a team meeting on Tuesday and start preparing for exit meetings and go from there. But this is a time for the players to be with each other. It’s the last time this team will ever be together.
“But I told the team, I’m not going to run from this. We’re just getting started. We’re not a flash in the pan. Look out. We’re not stopped. We’re coming back. I have no problem saying that. We’re going to have a good team next year. We’re losing some really good hitters and a couple of guys out of the bullpen but besides that, unless the (MLB) Draft hits us hard, we should have another really good team. We’re just getting started. We’re going to keep building and I think what we’ve created the last two weeks with fans and our stadium, I think our future is really, really bright.”
Bates said he wants to see that happen.
“I’ll always get goosebumps thinking about what happened this season,” Bates said. “I think we set the bar high and I expect these guys to come out next year and outperform us. I hope to see it. That’s really all we talked about after the game — come back next year keep this thing rolling.”