EUNICE — The LSU-Eunice baseball program is no stranger to success, yet the Bengals this season managed to do something they’d never done before.
Coach Jeff Willis’ club set the school regular-season win record with 50. The Bengals will look to build on that 50-win season Thursday when they begin play in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament.
LSU-E is set to square off with Jones County Junior College at noon in Decatur, Mississippi.
Anytime a team has won 50 games during the course of a regular season, it is fair to say its players have gained some confidence, and rightly so.
Willis credits his group’s confidence for much of the season’s success. That and an uncanny ability to capitalize on opponents mistakes.
“Our players have played with an extremely high level of confidence this year and the biggest thing they’ve done is take advantage of an opposing team’s mistakes,” Willis said.
The powerful LSU-E offense is led by sophomore Nick Coomes, who’s hitting .367 and leads the team with 13 home runs and 79 RBIs.
But the Bengals don’t score on power alone. Throughout the season, LSU-E has produces runs in different ways when they’ve need to — something Willis feels gives them a tremendous advantage as they roll into regional play.
“It’s a good thing going into the playoffs realizing you have a lot of ways you can win a game, because in baseball, something is going to go cold, so you better have a different avenue of manufacturing runs to win a game,” said Willis, whose team stole 267 bases during the regular season. “Being aggressive on the bases allows us to spin the game out of control.”
Zach LaFleur leads LSU-E with 59 steals. LaFleur also leads the team in batting, hitting .417 this season. But the running game is not just a one-man show.
LSU-E had eight players with double-digit steals, including Janson Bourque with 43 and Orynn Veillon with 38.
The Bengals success isn’t all do their offensive production however, as you’d expect the Bengals have been pretty good in the field as well. Willis pointed particularly to his team’s ability to prevent the opponent from the dreaded big inning.
“We’ve had a very good year defensively,” Willis said. “The key is to throw strikes, stay out of three-ball counts, and try to get to two strikes in three pitches.”
Willis added “Our ability to do that lets up keep the momentum in our dugout.”
The winner of this weekend’s four-team, double-elimination tournament will advance to the NJCAA Division II World Series and despite the success up to this point, Willis knows if his team doesn’t perform well the 50 wins will just be a footnote.
“All it takes at this time is one bad weekend of baseball and your season is over.” he said.
LSU-E finished the regular season with a 50-4 record.
The 2016 NJCAA Division II World Series is scheduled to take place May 28- June 4 at David Allen Memorial Ballpark in Enid, Oklahoma.