And then, the end of things

ATTABOY IN AUSTIN: Bulldogs catcher Jorge Corona and pitcher Greg Martinez celebrated Tech’s opening win, and as it turned out, last one of the season Friday at the Austin Regional. 

Opinion by TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports

In a flash, it ends.

A gut punch you should have seen coming, one you tell yourself to prepare for, but can’t.

The shock of how suddenly a college baseball team’s season ends is always surprising to me, though by now it shouldn’t be.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over, but in this game, when a team loses in postseason, it’s running-into-a-brick-wall over. Hard and fast and unforgiving.

Louisiana Tech baseball coach Lane Burroughs was only seconds removed from a season-ending news conference flanked by teary-eyed senior teammates and roomies Taylor Young and Steele Netterville. They’d both homered in their final game, a 9-7 loss to Air Force in the NCAA Austin Regional Sunday.

It wasn’t enough. Not enough runs. Not enough arms. And on this day, not enough time.

“I never get used to it,” said Burroughs as he prepared to make his final 2022 walk to a clubhouse, a guy whose team only days ago “couldn’t have been in a better place.”

The Bulldogs had beaten Dallas Baptist, 12-7, and used only two pitchers to get all but one out. Great shape. A dozen hits, five for extra bases.

But the next night the Bulldogs scored only two runs despite 13 hits in a 5-2 loss to Texas; it helped the Longhorns when, in the late innings, they found a leak in Tech’s normally dependable bullpen.

And then came Air Force and the same thing; Tech couldn’t get anybody out as the game wore on.

“And now,” Burroughs said, “it’s over.”

Football and basketball have clocks. You know how much real time you have. In baseball, time comes with mystery.

Football and basketball guys can run out the clock on you and you’re helpless. But if you’ve got at-bats and outs, there’s always time in baseball, so there’s always hope. In baseball, time is eternal.

Until it’s not.

Tech trailed in the bottom of the ninth by two. Netterville flied out. Cole McConnell got a base hit. And now Jorge Corona, who’d homered earlier and had a career-high six RBIs Friday, was at the plate.

Still with time.

A 1-1 swing. Groundball to shortstop. To second. To first.

Classic 6-4-3. As ordinary as baseball gets, and in this case, as agonizing.

“Twin-killing” is baseball lingo for a double play. And this one killed both baserunners and Tech’s 43-21 season.

All spring long, the Bulldogs kept losing on Friday nights and rebounding to win series after series until taking the CUSA Tournament title on the field of its rival in Hattiesburg. The joy around the program was real and evident in The Love Shack Ladies, the Philsexuals, the Baseball Mamas, the Right Field Dawgs, a wide-range of personalities and colors and sounds and cheering preferences, all rooting for a program that had languished until the past few seasons. A mix of unique circumstances layered it all.

“From the tornado, to rebuilding, to Division Champs, to records broken…,” said Teri Netterville, the mom of two players and a graduate born deep in Tech tradition. “My god, it feels like we’ve been part of a Lifetime movie.”

Not a bad way to sum it up.

“I’ve always thought it’s like the beauty and the beast,” Burroughs said. “There’s the beauty of winning in college baseball, getting into a Regional, winning some games, could be playing well, you’re hot … but if you don’t win tomorrow, it’s over.

“That’s,” he said, “the beast. This part right here.”

And with that he followed Young and Netterville down the hall and out of the stadium and onto the bus and out of the playoffs. A beast. A chapter over; what a movie it was.

But spring comes again, and more guys will show up to play, and fans will show up to root, and it’ll all happen over again, because even though loving big means hurting big when something is lost, it is better to have played and lost, then never to have played at all.

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu

Photo by TOM MORRIS, Louisiana Tech