SPOTLIGHT: Little things mean a lot

FLYING TIME AGAIN: Before junior college and Louisiana Tech, Riggs Easterling was a four-time baseball letterwinner at Loyola in Shreveport.

By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

Louisiana Tech’s Riggs Easterling is a 5-9, 170-pound infielder who has one hit, two runs scored, eight putouts and four assists in two starts and nine games played for the 38-18 Bulldogs.

So while the sophomore isn’t a cornerstone, he’s a piece of the puzzle with a chance to be a bigger piece at any moment, depending on what mood the Baseball Gods are in as Tech heads into the Conference USA Tournament today at 12:30, weather permitting, against Charlotte in Hattiesburg, Miss.

After two years at Mississippi Delta Community College, the former Loyola College Prep star has “helped us become the team we are,” coach Lane Burroughs said of his Tech team that finished 20-10 in the league, second only to a record-setting Southern Miss team ranked 14th nationally by DI Baseball.

Even in the big things, it’s always the little things that get a player or a team there.

“Everybody’s played a role,” Burroughs said. “Each player is a piece of the puzzle, a link in the chain, and Riggs has earned his link.”

With no offers, Easterling went to juco for playing time and earned it as Mississippi Delta’s everyday shortstop. In the 2020 virus-shortened season, he hit .300, scored 12 runs and stole eight bases in 14 games. Last year he had 20 RBI, eight doubles and three homers in 31 games.

“Riggs can run,” Burroughs said. “One of the biggest games of the year, we may not win it if Riggs is not in the game at that moment.”

That was at LSU in late March when Easterling found himself with the ball on the third-base line, the Tigers’ best player, Dylan Crews, caught in no-man’s land after his teammate had failed to bunt on a suicide squeeze. Catcher Jorge Corona threw to Easterling to trap Crews.

Oh … and it was bottom of the 11th, one out, tie game.

“Should I throw it back to Jorge?” Easterling said, remembering “everything” about the play. “Do I try to get him with my speed?”

The race was on. “I thought, ‘I’ll chase him.’ Then he got almost to the plate and I dove.”

So did Crews. Easterling won.

The game continued, and Tech won in 12, 7-6, for a two-game home-and-home 2022 sweep of the Tigers.

“I had to get him,” Easterling said. “I wasn’t too amped emotionally on the outside, but in my head … well, things were different.”

Things started getting really different for Easterling when he came to a Showcase at Tech last summer.

“He’s a good defender, good with the bat, solid in the classroom, a hard worker and a great young man who pushes our starters at practice and never has a bad day,” Burroughs said. “Everybody on the team loves him. He just wanted a chance; we seem to have had some success with guys who’ve just wanted an opportunity.”

“Everything I wanted was here,” Easterling said. “Great program. Great new facility. Great teammates; I knew some already. Coach said I could walk on in the fall and compete for a spot. That’s all I wanted. He told me to stay on my toes, do your work, be ready.”

He’s had four fellow Shreveporters to talk shop with, all Byrd High grads: fifth-year guys Jonathan Fincher and Steele Netterville, and freshmen Jackson Walker and Slade Netterville, who he’ll play ball and share a host family with in Indianapolis this summer.

“It’s been a bit of a humbling year for him, but he told me it’s the most fun he’s had playing baseball,” said mom Stephanie. “It’s more about the friends he’s made than the innings he’s played. He’s with such a group of leaders; I think it says a lot about the type of players and coaches he’s with and the culture of the program.”

Easterling said the seniors have been “preparing us and guiding us the right way” with an “aura around them that rubs off on us and carries the team. The energy’s great.”

But even after last year’s 42-20 season and this spring’s success, Easterling feels his team is “still underdogs in everyone’s eyes,” he said. “I’m not sure we’re recognized for how much talent this team has. We still haven’t really ‘gone on a run,’ so to speak. We really haven’t gotten hot yet. To win this many games not playing our best, that’s the sign of a great team.

“I like where we are,” he said. “Now it’s ‘go’ time.”

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu