By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports
The party started on the infield grass just inside the first base bag, where Louisiana Tech’s Walker Burchfield was bobbing up and down, as if on a pogo stick, before he was swallowed in a sea of red jerseys and joy.
Moments before, he’d been at the plate as a pinch hitter in a Conference USA game that would send the winner to the title game and the loser home.
Nice work if you can hit it. And Burchfield did.
Bottom of the ninth. Down by a run to Old Dominion, a 9-6 winner in 13 innings earlier in the day. One out. Bases loaded. Part of Tech’s two-headed designated hitter team — the lefthanded hitting Jackson Lancaster, who’d started the game, against righties, Burchfield against lefties.
Burchfield was now a (designated) pinch hitter.
The pitcher was righthanded reliever Vincent Bashara, and Jackson had been lifted earlier for a pinch runner. Tech coach Lane Burroughs chose to send up the righthanded-hitting Burchfield anyway, a guy who didn’t start but was 1-for-1 with a walk in the day’s first game.
“It had been a long day, so I didn’t think the pitcher would throw a breaking ball and put the heat on his catcher when a passed ball could tie the game,” Burchfield said. “AD (Adarius Myers, who’d batted before Burchfield) saw two fastballs his first two pitches, both on the inner part of the plate. I was thinking if I see fastball out of his hand, and it’s on the inner third, I’m swinging.”
And that’s what Burchfield saw.
“I didn’t barrel it,” he said, “but I guessed right and it worked out in my favor. Just enough to get it out of the infield.”
The party-starting soft liner to left center brought home Steele Netterville from third and a sliding Cole McConnell from second for a 9-8 win.
“Best moment of my life,” Burchfield said.
That hit vaulted Tech into the title game the Bulldogs won against UTSA, 9-8, in another walk-off, this time from Netterville. All that, and its 42-19 season, earned Tech a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Austin Regional and a 6:30 p.m. meeting today with No.3 seed Dallas Baptist on ESPN+.
No. 1 seed Texas plays No. 4 seed Air Force at 1 p.m. on the Longhorn Network.
Both Tulane transfer Burchfield and Missouri transfer Lancaster are late to the party — but just in time. Burchfield transferred from Tulane and is a junior. Lancaster, a senior in his final year, transferred from Missouri. Two of 13 Mississippians on the team, both played in junior college before finding their way to Ruston.
“It’s good to finally be at a place where baseball is actually cared about,” said Lancaster, whose hometown friend and ace reliever Kyle Crigger talked him into looking at Tech. “It’s such a family atmosphere within the team and coaching staff. I love the atmosphere we have in Ruston.”
“It’s been awesome,” Burchfield said. “Something I never saw coming; I’m thankful for it every day.”
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Tech Athletics