Special to the Minden Press-Herald
A division title, an appearance in the Conference USA Championship game and hosting the first NCAA Regional in program history. What a year it was for Louisiana Tech Baseball, and what a season it was back home at J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park.
A historic 2021 season, the sixth 40-win season in program history, came to a close with 16 straight games played at the Love Shack. Many of those 16 games came down to the final out, six of which came in walk-off variety. The caliber of baseball was special, but doing it in front of sellout crowd after sellout crowd made the games even more memorable.
Louisiana Tech (42-20) saw its season come to a close on Sunday night in a 14-7 defeat to a talented and powerful NC State (33-17) roster. A crowd of 2,513 fans packed the Love Shack for the final time in 2021. A whopping 10,546 fans packed the Shack for the four Bulldog games in the Ruston NCAA Regional.
The fans appreciated the effort. The student-athletes and coaches appreciated the turnout even more.
“The crowd was unbelievable,” head coach Lane Burroughs said. “They showed up. They lifted us up and helped us win ballgames this weekend.
“This is how you build it right here with all these fans. Our better days are ahead. We’re going to keep moving. We’re not going anywhere.”
In his final game as a Bulldog, senior Parker Bates crushed two home runs and a triple to cap off his LA Tech career. Bates, the all-time leader in games played at Louisiana Tech with 226 appearances in a Bulldog uniform, hit a pair of two-run homers in the first and third innings to help Tech build an early 4-0 lead.
After NC State trimmed the lead to 4-3 in the bottom of the fourth, the centerfielder once again crushed a ball off NC State starter Matt Willadsen for a two-out RBI triple to left center. Bates finished his final season at LA Tech with 28 extra-base hits and a team-high 62 RBI.
“This is a very special team in Louisiana Tech history,” Bates said. “We’ve accomplished so much, and we’re really just sharing the love and soaking in the last moments with each other on the field.”
Third baseman Hunter Wells, Tech’s all-time leader in career hits and triples, became the first Bulldog to tally 100 hits in a season when his two-run homer sailed over the wall in left center in the seventh inning. Fittingly, Wells’ final swing with two outs in the top of the ninth inning broke yet another Bulldog record. An infield single marked his 169th total base of the 2021 season, a new LA Tech record.
Wells finished the season as the team leader in home runs (14), total bases (169), batting average (.385) and hits (101). In just over three years in Ruston, he wrote himself into the Bulldog record books early and often.
Right fielder Philip Matulia capped off the trio of Bulldogs with a multi-hit game of his own in Tech’s final matchup of the season. Earlier on Sunday, Matulia delivered a two-hit, three-RBI performance in game one against Alabama. The Houston native tagged one of Tech’s four home runs in the game and seven on the day on a hitters’ friendly day at the Love Shack.
Tech’s 10-8 victory over the Crimson Tide on Saturday marked its third win over a different SEC opponent in 2021, its first time accomplishing the feat since 1987. Right-handed reliever Kyle Crigger, who missed the first half of the season due to his recovery from offseason elbow surgery, earned the victory with 4.1 innings of relief while allowing just three hits and one earned run.
The Bulldogs finished the 2021 season on their home turf. The final out of game two marked the end of the ballgame, but it did not mark the end of the night for Tech’s six seniors.
Family members and fans gave the Bulldogs a round of applause as they walked back toward their home dugout. They then embraced their Diamond Dogs on the field as over half an hour passed between a game-ending groundout to shortstop and the final stream of players and fans exiting the Love Shack infield.
It was moment earned following a tornado. A pandemic. And the construction of a new place to call home.
Elite baseball in Ruston will be back in a little over eight months. The Love Shack will be rocking once again, and it will send the same message as this 2021 team sent all season long: Bulldog Baseball is here to stay.
“We set a precedent here at Louisiana Tech, what we’re about and what this program can do,” Bates said. “People are going to look back and say that the 2021 team set that precedent, and I’m just so proud to be a part of that.”