EUNICE — It’s a small school in a rural community, but at LSU-Eunice, baseball players come from all around to try to fulfill big-time dreams.
Junior-college national championships and the chance to play Division I baseball have made LSUE an attractive place, said Louisiana-Lafayette outfielder Derek Herrington, who played two seasons for the Bengals.
“Everyone knows if you want to go to a good junior college, it’s Eunice,” he said.
Since Jeff Willis became head coach 13 years ago, 136 players have played for the Bengals and gone on to sign Division I scholarships. Last year, LSUE had 14 D-I signees. This season, nine of Willis’ players have signed with a four-year school.
This season, seeking its fifth national title under Willis, LSUE is No. 2 in National Junior College Athletic Association Division II with a 31-8 record. Outfielder Madison Nickens, a former standout at St. Amant High, said the chance of signing at a major D-I program is just one aspect that attracts players to LSUE.
“There’s more to it than that,” he said. “Players know that if you want to win a national championship, this is the place to come. You come here mainly to win, and then you get the chance to play D-I.”
Nickens is one of nine current Bengals who have signed with four-year programs; he’s headed to Maryland. Willis said pitcher Mitch Sewald, a sophomore from Houston, will play for TCU. The others headed to D-I programs are Jordan Romero (LSU), Steve Sensely (UL-Lafayette), Ben Braymer (Auburn), Sam Walley (Southern Miss), Brennan Bozeman (Central Florida), Cade Stone (UL-Monroe) and Heyden Guidry (McNeese).
“In junior college, your goal should be developing players and putting them in position,” Willis said. “I want every one of our players to have that opportunity after two years. We have been fortunate to have kids here who have been good enough to play at another level, whether it’s NAIA or Division I.”
There are six players on this season’s Ragin’ Cajuns roster who played at LSUE. Cajuns catcher/outfielder Evan Powell, who went to LSUE after playing one season at LSU, said Willis’ system has established the pattern of excellence.
“Coach Willis has a lot to do with it,” he said “He really does a good job of getting people ready for Division I. A lot of the reason why guys go (to Eunice) is it’s a place that gets you ready for Division I. (Willis) makes sure you get all the good bats, the good shoes, the good cleats and good gloves — all of that. Then on the road trips, he treats you with respect and he treats you like professionals already. After you go there, you already feel like you’ve been in Division I.”
Cajuns pitcher Will Bacon said the bucolic atmosphere of Eunice has helped create championship teams.
“It’s one of the best programs in the country, and one reason is the way things are run there,” he said. “You get to know your teammates. It’s also a small community, and everyone knows everybody. That, and you know you’re there to win a national championship.”