By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports
RUSTON — On an anything-but-baseball night, an evening colder than your ex-girlfriend’s heart, Louisiana Tech cleanly fielded more batted balls than LSU and, for that simple reason, beat the No. 2-ranked Tigers, 11-6, Wednesday night at a bitterly cold J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park.
Maybe because Tech had not beaten LSU in Ruston since 1987, and maybe because LSU had not visited Ruston in almost a quarter century — and maybe because they expected Tech to be decent since the Bulldogs had hosted a first-ever-in-Ruston NCAA Regional last spring and swept Wichita State in the season-opening series last weekend — a sellout crowd of 2,529 shoehorned themselves into the park and pretended it was mid-May.
Because of the Arctic conditions and because most people don’t want to die at a baseball game, or even at a soccer game (which is another story), surely they’d leave by the 6th?, no matter the score. Common sense demanded it.
But when it comes to true fans, what has common sense to do with baseball? Or any sport?
“I don’t know if I would have stayed out here the whole time if I wasn’t invested,” Tech coach Lane Burroughs said. “Our fans came out, and not only did they show up, but they stayed the whole game. I can’t say enough about them.”
Maybe “they’re crazy” would be a start. Against all odds — cold rain, ice drizzles, hypothermia — they stayed, right up until LSU’s Jacob Berry grounded out to Tech reliever Kyle Crigger, who joyously tossed the ball to Bryce Wallace for the final out.
Any LSU fans in the crowd were subdued for the duration when the Bulldogs jumped out to a 5-0 lead after three. But nothing is sure in February college baseball. Apparently appreciating that LSU was pretty good and had scored more than 50 (count ’em, 50) runs in its opening weekend against Maine, the Bulldog faithful stayed.
After a Taylor Young homer in the bottom of the eighth gave Tech an 11-4 lead — the senior from West Monroe was 3-for-4 and a single, of all things, away from the cycle — a couple fans left. That they’d showed up at all is a testament to what’s going on at the corner of Tech Drive and West Alabama in Ruston.
“Despite the bad conditions, we had people out here at 3:30 getting ready and it was just electric,” said Tech starter Cade Gibson, who pitched 5 innings, gave up three runs on three hits, struck out eight and walked only one. “We always have a good crowd and they’re always supportive. I love them to death.”
Which is sort of what fans risked to watch this one.
Tech’s four pitchers struck out 14 and walked only 2. Again, this was against a lineup that is projected to be in the Top 5 in NCAA Baseball. So you’re battling that — and frostbite.
But so were the LSU pitchers, who deserved better: six pitchers struck out 9 and walked just two. The five errors charged were what killed the Tigers. (Actually, LSU made a healthy 9 errors, two on fly balls — one in right-center and one in foul territory — and two on infield grounders. Home cookin’ for Tech’s hitters. Everyone was cold Wednesday night.)
Tech’s error total: Zero. Against the polar bear weather and the NCAA’s No. 2-ranked team, Tech proved to be the tougher team on this night. Or maybe the team that was less cold, more willing to accept the elements.
Or, in a game where blankets in the stands were as common as hot dogs, Tech’s team was, on an icy night, the hottest.
The Bulldogs host Tulane for three game this weekend; LSU will play Towson and Southern, each twice, this weekend.
Photo by TOM MORRIS