By T. Scott Boatright
Former Louisiana Tech University President Dan Reneau had a catch phrase he’d use at every college graduation he presided over.
“It’s a red-letter day,” Reneau would tell new graduates during commencement exercises.
There have also been some red-letter games for Tech athletics over the years — Karl Malone and the Dunkin’ Dogs taking Waymon Tisdale and the Oklahoma Sooners to overtime with a NCAA men’s basketball tourney Elite Eight berth on the line.
The Lady Techsters edging past Auburn in the 1988 NCAA Women’s Championship Game.
The LA Tech football rallying from behind to score in the final three minutes to beat Colorado State 31-30 at Joe Aillet Stadium Stadium and earn a spot in the Independence Bowl against Maryland.
Last year’s home heroics in the NCAA Regionals in the newly rebuilt J.C. Love Stadium were red-letter games for the LA Tech baseball team, but the Diamond ’Dogs have had other big games, too. And maybe none bigger than the Bulldogs’ 1987 home game against LSU.
Both teams had been to the NCAA Tourney in 1986 and were playing well the following season, setting up an April 16, 1987 contest that is still remembered by much of Tech Nation today.
LSU threw a different pitcher every inning, but Richie Leblanc pitched all 10 innings for the Bulldogs and fondly remembers that game.
“I remember everything about it,” said Leblanc, who will be enshrined into the Louisiana Tech Hall of Fame this fall. “Every time we play LSU, everybody still wants to talk about that game back in ’87. It was a great game for the program. The enthusiasm around that game — other than last year in the Regionals — I don’t know of any other time that stadium has seen that much excitement and enthusiasm generated from a ball game.”
Charlie Montoyo, current manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, was the Bulldogs’ small-statured but big-hitting second baseman at the time.
“I’ve never forgotten that game, and I’ve been part of thousands of baseball games,” Montoyo said. “That’s still one of the top two or three games of my career. I’ll never forget the crowd and how loud it got. It was awesome.”
The teams went into the 10th inning tied at 4-4, and Leblanc, who threw nine strikeouts on the night, returned to the mound. And after the Bulldogs recorded two outs, Tech head coach Pat “Gravy” Patterson made a trip to the mound because LSU’s star hitter, Albert Joey Belle, was on deck for the Tigers.
“Gravy and I discussed it several times,” Leblanc said Patterson considered putting in another pitcher. “Jimmy Faircloth (Tech’s No. 2 pitcher) will tell you he threw a whole game in the bullpen.
“In that game, Belle hit a home run, then I struck him out,” Leblanc said. “Then he hit another home run and then I struck him out again. Those home runs he hit were over the lights in right field. And they were opposite field home runs, because he was right-handed and hit them right. They about made it to Memorial Gym. Both of them.
“He was on deck in the top of the 10th and Gravy came out and made it known I was not going to pitch to Joey, because what had already happened. Belle was due for another home run. That was the pattern he had set for the game. And my pitch count was up there in the 160s – 170s, which is unheard of today. So I’m glad that we got the third out, because I would have come out of the ball game.”
Then in the bottom of the 10th, Montoya finally got the pitch he was looking for as he launched the ball out of the park for the 5-4 walk-off win for the Bulldogs.
“I just wanted to hit the ball out,” Montoyo said of that at-bat. “I just wanted it all to fall into place and I was just praying for that to happen. And it did.”
Montoyo said he knew right away the hit was going to leave the park.
And so did the Bulldog faithful as they erupted into one of the biggest parties ever seen in Ruston.
“You could feel it as much as you could hear it,” Montoyo said, “The crowd was awesome and everybody was going crazy. It doesn’t get any better than what happened that night.”
A night that still lives in the annals of Tech athletics lore.
“I was in the dugout knowing I was out of the game,” Leblanc said. “They had taken my glove away and my arm was already being iced. I can’t even remember seeing Charlie’s swing. But I do remember seeing the ball take off thinking, ‘That’s got a chance.’ Obviously it was a home run, and what ensued at that point was a lot of fun to be a part of. It was an unforgettable night.”
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