Tech in Texas: Haven’t we been here before?

On May 25, 1974, Louisiana Tech baseball coach Pat Patterson was asked if the Bulldogs’ one-run win over the Texas Longhorns in the District 6 Regional was the biggest win in the program’s history.

“You’re damned right,” the late, long-since-legendary coach said.

On May 24, 1980, Louisiana Tech baseball coach Pat Patterson was asked if the Bulldogs’ one-run win over the Texas Longhorns in the Central Regional was the biggest win in the program’s history.

“This,” Patterson said, “is the biggest win ever.”

Somebody should let current Tech coach Lane Burroughs know what the line of questioning might be if his team is able to get by the Longhorns if/when they meet in the Austin Regional. The Bulldogs will open with Dallas Baptist, but a win there and a Texas win over Air Force would set up yet another matchup (as would losses by both).

If it seems like the Bulldogs have been down this road, it’s because they have.

I can vouch for the accuracy of the 1980 quote for one simple reason: I asked it. Having just finished my junior year at Tech, I knew a good road trip when I saw it, so four of us drove to Austin for the game. Back in the day, a Tech Talk press pass could get you just about anywhere, including into the media room at Disch-Falk Stadium.

The semi-strange thing about that game was how it didn’t seem like much of a surprise. Star pitcher Keith Thibodeaux wasn’t particularly sharp, but just good enough.

With the win, Tech was one win away from being in the driver’s seat in the double elimination tournament, but lost to Hawaii 2-1, leaving the tying run stranded at third in the eighth inning. Hawaii went on to go to the College World Series.

Tech was that close in 1980, but the Bulldogs were even closer in 1974.

Repeat after me: Tech … was … one … win … away … from … Omaha.

Almost 50 years later, it still almost seems impossible, but the college baseball world was different then. For some strange reason, some of the eight “district” sites had as many as six teams in them. The one in Arlington (played at the home of the Texas Rangers) had only three and only a month before had the Southland Conference winner been voted in as a participant.

They probably voted them in for cannon fodder purposes, because the other two teams in the three-team bracket were No. 4 Texas (50-4) and No. 9 Pan American (50-9). But that didn’t work out too well when Tech stunned Pan American 3-2 behind the pitching of Bill Norwood (eight innings, six hits) and Randy McGilberry, who got the save in the ninth.

Texas excused Pan American from the tournament later that night, setting up a best-of-three to go to the College World Series.

Before the tournament even started, senior left-hander Eddie Holman knew he was going to pitch the second game. And that it was against the team that had been to Omaha five of the previous seven seasons didn’t faze him at all.

“I really wasn’t nervous,” Holman says now.

The reason is because he had played with several of the Longhorns, including their two top pitchers, during the summer in a league in Colorado

“I remember we weren’t intimidated by them at all,” Holman says. “We knew we had a good club. We felt like we belonged there and had a good chance.”

Tech got out to a 5-1 lead before Holman began to tire. In the seventh with two on and two out and the score now 5-4, McGilberry came back in from the bullpen and ended the Texas threat. He struck out the final two batters in the ninth to end the game. “I got credit for the win,” Holman says, “but he came in and shut them down.”

One win away.

“I imagine we got their attention,” Holman says. “We were just taking it one game at a time. Once we got in a battle with Texas, we realized we probably had a better club than we thought we did.”

But not quite good enough. After beating Texas in the afternoon, there was another game to play that night. After a rain delay to start, the ’Horns won 8-0.

Which meant the two teams came back the next day for a winner-take-all game. “I wish could have come back and pitched that game on that last day” Holman says. “I warmed up in the bullpen and felt good. I don’t know if it would have made a difference.”

Probably not, since he would have been on zero days’ rest. Texas won 12-2 and headed off to the College World Series, where they would finish fourth. Tech went back to Ruston to think about being one win away.

“We really didn’t realize it at the time,” Holman says. “But I have thought a whole lot about it since then.”