By Malcolm Butler
After back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Regionals including a Conference USA Tournament title last season, Louisiana Tech head coach Lane Burroughs knows that all eyes are on his Bulldogs entering the 2023 season which starts this weekend at JC Love Field at Patterson Park with a four-game series against BYU.
The Bulldogs have graduated a Who’s Who of Tech baseball lore over the past two seasons, names like Parker Wells, Taylor Young, Hunter Wells, Steele Netterville, Kyle Crigger and the list could go on and on.
Yet, there are whispers around the kennel that this year’s team could be the best of the three. However, a 56-game regular season slate will be the ultimate test for the 2023 Bulldogs.
“We want to win the league,” said Burroughs. “Then we want to be in that 64. Obviously we want to go further. We can. We have that ability.”
That ability will be tested by a non-conference slate that includes match-ups against BYU (4), Arkansas (3), Ole Miss (2), Northwestern (3), Southern Miss (2), Air Force (2) and UL-Lafayette (2). That’s 18 games that will help make (or break) the Bulldogs RPI.
Conference USA will have a new look with the subtraction of Southern Miss, Old Dominion and Marshall but the addition of perennial college baseball power Dallas Baptist as an affiliate. The Bulldogs host DBU in a three-game series March 31 thru April 2.
Despite the graduation of some of the top all-time offensive players in program history, Burroughs believes this year’s lineup (and depth) could be the best since he stepped foot in Ruston.
“I think top to bottom, one through nine, we could be better,” said Burroughs. “It sure has the possibility. But you are comparing it to Hunter Wells, all-time hits leader. Parker Bates, All-American. Taylor Young, All-American. Steele Netterville, all-time doubles leader. Are they going to be those guys? I don’t know. But I think if you are just looking at it on paper, it has the ability to be better than both (2021 and 2022).”
The Bulldogs host BYU Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. (DH) and Monday at 6 p.m.
Newcomers to Watch
Dalton Davis (Infielder, Tyler Junior College)
Burroughs said “He will hit in our three-hole to start off the season. He is really athletic. He is really physical. He can steal bases and drive the ball out of the park. He is a really good defender at first (base).”
Jonathan Hogart (OF, Wabash Valley College)
Burroughs said “He will probably start out the season in right field. He will lead off for us. Another physical, athletic young man at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds as a lead off hitter. Really good defender. Tough. Plays really hard.”
Rawley Hector (P, Texas A&M)
Burroughs said “He will be our Saturday or Sunday guy on the mound. He is a sophomore. Was highly recruited out of the Dallas area. Pitched about 15 innings at A&M last year. Was a Team USA gold medal winning pitcher in high school. His arsenal will be 88 to 91. Really good command. Really good change up. He is an ultra, ultra competitor.”
Freshmen to Watch
Jacob Havern, Pitcher
Burroughs said “True freshman. He has a chance to be really, really good. Great composure.”
Karson Evans, 1b/Catcher
Burroughs said “His nickname is Bam Bam. That’s all you need to know. He knocks the heck out of the ball.”
Three Burning Questions for the Bulldogs
How do you replace Kyle Crigger in the closer role?
“That is a good question. Right now we were hoping it would be Landon Tompkins. He has had some struggles recently. It will probably be closer by committee. Ethan Bates, a transfer from Arkansas, will open up at third base but he will also close. It could be Ryan Harland. It could be some of our midweek starters. We will see how it goes. Right now it has to be a closer-by-committee thing and whoever we feel gives us the best opportunity … The scoreboard will tell you everything. If we need three outs and its a one-run game, we need a guy that will pump strikes. Landon is the guy who needs to do it but he has had some preseason struggles. We believe in him, but I think we have enough guys who can get the job done.”
How does the 2023 lineup compare to the past two years?
“I think offensively its deeper than both of those. That’s for sure. We have never had this much offensive depth since I have been here. And secondly … we have discussed this at length … there are going to be four of five really good offensively players sitting on the bench game to game. They have to be able to handle it, and we have to be able to do a good job as coaches keeping them engaged. We know they will get frustrated. Competitors want to play. I think overall its better than last year’s lineup. I think top to bottom, one through nine, could be better. It sure has the possibility. But you are comparing it to Hunter Wells, all-time hits leader. Parker Bates, All-American. Taylor Young, All-American. Steele Netterville, all-time doubles leader. Are they going to be those guys? I don’t know. But I think if you are just looking at it on paper, it has the ability to be better than both (2021 and 2022).”
What does success look like for this team?
“We have goals. Everyone is going to say Omaha. But we just want to be playing in late May and early June. If you are playing then and you are one of the 64 then you have a shot. We want to win the league. I think that’s huge, whether that’s the regular season or tournament or both. I just think that is huge, especially with the league transitioning. Kind of like Southern Miss did for years, Rice did for years; we want to put that stamp that this is our league. That’s No. 1. We want to win the league. Then we want to be in that 64. Obviously we want to go further. We can. We have that ability. We all know, especially in baseball, the best team doesn’t always win it. Last year Tennessee was the best team in the country, and they didn’t go to Omaha. It’s a funny game and it’s a long season and it’s a grind, but goals are winning this league and going into that 64 and seeing what happens from there.”
Projected Starting Lineup for Friday vs. BYU
- Jonathan Hogart, RF
- Cole McConnell, CF
- Dalton Davis, 1B
- Phil Matulia, DH
- Jorge Corona, C
- Adarius Myers, LF
- Ethan Bates, 3B
- Will Safford, 2B
- Logan McLeod, SS
Projected Weekend Rotation
Jonathan Fincher, Senior, Left-handed
Greg Martinez, Junior, Right-handed
Rawley Hector, Sophomore, Right-handed