by Matt Sefcovic (@MattSefcovic)
On April 25, 2019, a devastating tornado ripped through the Louisiana Tech athletic complex, damaging the baseball, softball, and tennis complexes, among many others. From then on, the Bulldogs baseball team finished the season with a 6-9 record and missed the NCAA Tournament after losing both games in the Conference USA Tournament.
The Love Shack, home of the Bulldogs, was in pieces. At that point, it would have been easy to feel defeated. Where would they play home games going forward? Where would the funding come from to replace the current facilities? Who would want to play for a program with so many uncertainties?
Fast forward to 2020 and Louisiana Tech was scheduled to play a portion of their home games at Ruston High School. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
A program that was already hit with so much adversity suffered another setback as the college baseball season came to an end.
It was exactly 675 days between home games for the Bulldogs as they rebuilt the facility that was destroyed by the EF-3 tornado in April 2019. In less than two years, the athletic department at Louisiana Tech answered the call by building a state-of-the-art facility that the program desperately deserved.
With a new complex, Louisiana Tech bounced back in 2021 and earned the two seed in the Conference USA Tournament which was played at the brand new Love Shack. Heading into the tournament, Louisiana Tech had been announced as one of the 20 potential Regional hosts, but the Bulldogs knew they had work to do to secure the bid.
The tournament became a metaphor for the team and the perseverance it had shown over the past two years.
With a round one victory in sight, Louisiana Tech saw a 6-3, eighth-inning lead over UTSA evaporate in the ninth. Three innings later, redshirt senior Hunter Wells was the hero, with a walk-off home run to end the nearly five-hour game.
“I love the moment,” Wells said after the game. “I’ve dreamed of it. I don’t run from it. . . . I want the game in my hands.”
A second-round setback against Southern Miss forced the Bulldogs into the losers bracket at the Conference USA Tournament before a tidy 14-4 win over Western Kentucky set up a rematch with the Golden Eagles.
After amassing an 8-0 deficit in four innings of play, the end of the tournament looked imminent for Louisiana Tech. A furious comeback was jumpstarted by a six-run fifth inning. Two runs in the seventh and eighth innings earned the Bulldogs a 10-9 lead heading into the ninth, but a Danny Lynch home run in the top of the frame tied the game for Southern Miss. The hard-fought lead evaporated with one swing of a bat.
A one-out walk by Hunter Wells and a sacrifice put the winning run on second base. Senior Steele Netterville stepped up to the plate and drove in Wells. The Bulldogs survived.
Shortly after, the two teams squared off again in an elimination game for both teams.
An early run for each team led to a 1-1 tie throughout the middle innings. Manny Garcia’s eighth-inning home run (one of his five hits on the day) gave Louisiana Tech its first lead heading into the ninth.
Nine batters came to the plate for Southern Miss in the top of the ninth, scoring four runs for the Golden Eagles in the process. Once again, a Louisiana Tech lead slipped away with just three outs to earn. And once again, Louisiana Tech came back to walk off Southern Miss.
Louisiana Tech scored four runs of their own in the bottom half of the ninth to win the game, 6-5. This time Junior Philip Matulia was the walk-off hero. “I just knew I had a job to do, and I just got it done,” Matulia said after hitting a walk-off line drive into right field, scoring Cole McConnell and Adarius Myers.
“This team never gives up. No matter how much we’re down, we never give in.” -Philip Matulia
Matulia joined Wells and Netterville as late-inning heroes. The trio is composed of only upperclassmen; all three experienced the devastation in Ruston at the hand of the tornado.
Even after the doubleheader double walk-off, Louisiana Tech still had one game to play. The following day, Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech battled it out in another instant classic. It was the Bulldogs sixth game in five days, and the pitching staff ran out of arms in a ten-inning, 7-5 win for Old Dominion.
The announcement of Regional sites was scheduled for only a few hours after the conclusion of the Conference USA Tournament, and the Bulldogs would soon know if they had done enough.
Austin, Columbia, Eugene—host sites were announced in alphabetical order by the NCAA. Nashville, Oxford . . .
For the first time in program history, Louisiana Tech would host a Regional.
It would have been difficult to blame players had they chosen to transfer from Louisiana Tech after a tornado destroyed their facilities. It would have been difficult to criticize Head Coach Lane Burroughs had his team faltered this season.
Neither happened and instead, Louisiana Tech made history.
So, how far will Louisiana Tech make it in the NCAA Tournament this year? That is yet to be seen, but you will not find a team in the country that has overcome as much adversity in the last two years. Head Coach Lane Burroughs will have his team ready to play Friday night.