(LSU-Eunice / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, May 20, 2013 6:21 PM
For the second time in three years, tiny Eunice is atop its part of the softball world.
The Lady Bengals claimed their second Division II national junior college championship over the weekend, and they gained sweet revenge in doing so.
A year ago it was Phoenix College that kept LSU-Eunice from winning back-to-back titles. And it was done in heartbreak fashion.
Phoenix College rallied from the losers’ bracket to beat Eunice twice on the final day to capture the double-elimination tournament.
The same scenario this year, but the Bengals were not about to lose once this time around let alone twice. They toppled Phoenix 8-0 in Saturday’s only game needed to finish their season 62-5 and with the crown they had lost the year before.
“It was a great feeling the way the girls came back from those heartbreaking losses the year before,” said head coach Andy Lee. “They were really focused this time around. They were not about to let that happen again.”
The Lady Bengals ended their 3-year run just one win away from capturing three straight national championships. They won 35 of their last 36 games this season, including 27 in a row at one stretch.
“That was hard to swallow last year,” said Lee. “This year it was completely different. We came to play every day, like we had something to prove.
“You have to give credit to the girls. They really wanted this. They worked hard every day for this moment and they got it.”
They are not alone either. The LSU-E baseball team will be fighting for another national championship itself this weekend.
“Winning seems to follow winning here,” said Lee. “It helps that the administration is behind the programs and the community is behind the programs. We have great facilities and kids know that if they come here they have a chance to play right away and be seen by bigger schools.”
Getting out of Eunice is a goal for all, but there doesn’t seem to be any hurry. Their are plenty of games to be won while still in town. But once the playing days are done at LSU-E, opportunity for bigger things exists.
A dozen players have moved on over the last couple of years to keep playing softball at 4-year schools, eighth doing to Division I programs according to Lee. This year seems to be no different.
“When you win you get exposure and that really helps the school recruit,” said Lee. “It is easy to get kids to come take a look at our program. When they come here they usually like what they see.”
However, it also brings out the best out of your opponent.
Winning has left a target on the Lady Bengals. They more often than not get their opponents ‘A’ game.
“The top ranking gives the other teams something to shoot for,” said Lee. “You know they are going to want to beat you no matter who it is. It is great to knock off the top team.
“We have grown used to that. We know it is coming. We just have to be prepared. I think, in the end, that is a good thing. It is why kids come here.”
Winning is the other reason.
Despite being stuck between LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette, two programs that have winning traditions in softball, and McNeese, which is building a strong program, Eunice is able to carve out not alone a place for itself but also a spot in the hearts of local talent.
Five players on this year’s team have ties to the Lake Area. Pam Wainwright is one of four local players who went the Eunice route. She and two Sam Houston teammates Brooke Rozas and Chelsea Evans, along with Caitlyn Blanchard of Sulphur, are memebers of the national championship team.
“It is a great area for high school softball and while there are times when we lose players to the big schools we do get our share,” said Lee. “The thing now is kids have heard about us and want to be a part of a winning program. We can offer that.”
But as a two-year school Lee knows everything is temporary.
“We have done a good job putting together a balanced program that has a chance to win ever year,” he said. “But you always feel like you are rebuilding. You are always one bad recruiting year away from dropping off. You have to work hard to keep the winning going.”
For now, Lee and crew can enjoy their triumphs. They already know how hard it is to repeat.
That’s a lesson they don’t want to get again.