Last Modified: Thursday, May 24, 2012 6:14 PM
The LSU-Eunice baseball team last year lost twice on the same day to the same team by the same one-run margin to let the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 23 championship slip through its grasp. But this season is a different story.
The Bengals (52-4) didn’t just win the tournament last weekend to earn a berth in the NJCAA Division II World Series, they steam rolled through their three games, outscoring opponents 44-2.
LSUE next takes on Des Moines Area Community College at noon Sunday as it embarks on a journey toward its first national championship since 2010. Coach Jeff Willis said the returning players at the two-year school remember the sour taste of last season’s end.
“We had a lot of guys throughout the year who remembered that and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again,” Willis said. “They knew going into this year that they wanted a chance to get back to the World Series and have a chance to win a national championship. What defines them is the team cohesiveness they have, the synergy they bring to the park every single day.”
One of those players is former Sulphur pitcher Chad Miller, a left-handed middle reliever in his second year with LSUE. This year he’s 3-0 with two saves, and he recorded the final two outs of the eighth inning in the Bengals’ 17-0 tournament-clinching victory Saturday against Hinds (Miss.) Community College.
Miller said he focused on speeding up his delivery and getting stronger in the offseason in hopes of putting forth a better sophomore season. Now, a World Series title would put an emphatic stamp on his career as he’ll move on to Louisiana-Monroe next year.
“It would mean more than anything — I never won a state championship; I never got to do any of that,” Miller said. “The experience of going alone is going to be outstanding. But standing here with a national championship would solidify all the hard work this team has put in for the past two years and make it all worth it.”
Willis said annihilating their three regional tournament foes could be favorable or dangerous for the Bengals.
“It could set the tone and continue the momentum and the snowball effect of it just continues to roll down the hill,” Willis said. “The other side is you could get overconfident and not play the way you’ve been playing the entire year. I’ve been impressed with our team after this weekend when they got in the weight room on Monday they were down to earth. They realize nothing carries over from this past weekend to this coming weekend.”
Willis likes his team’s balance; however, he acknowledged the Bengals simply have “a 10 percent chance” of winning it all at this point along with the other nine teams in the World Series.
For Miller, it’s his last shot with the Bengals, and he’s ready to take the challenge by storm.
“The other teams have made it just as far as we have, (but) if we play our game, we will be really tough to beat,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of starting pitchers who keep us in the game. … We field the ball real well, and our bullpen is really good. We don’t have anybody who just goes up and hits home runs; It’s all a team effort in what we do.”
Chemistry and hustle have propelled LSUE this far. Now the goal of a fourth baseball national championship since 2006 is foremost in the team’s mind.
What a difference a year makes.