By: Louisiana Tech Athletics
RUSTON, La (Louisiana Tech Athletics) – On the final day of the Conference USA season, the No. 14 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs had a chance to secure the C-USA Western Division title with a home victory over UTSA and a Southern Miss loss at Florida Atlantic. A pregame Senior Day celebration of LA Tech’s six seniors, all of which returned for an extra season after a COVID-19-shortened season in 2020, was capped off with a run-rule, walk-off double from senior Hunter Wells.
The Bulldogs won 17-7. Down in Florida, the Golden Eagles fell 9-6 a few hours before Wells’ slicing double fell in for the division-clinching base hit.
And just like that, the Bulldogs took home the Western Division title and the No. 2 overall seed in the Conference USA Tournament, which will be held at J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park on May 26-30.
A jubilant Bulldog dugout emptied onto the field to mob Wells at second base. Moments later, first baseman Manny Garcia locked head coach Lane Burroughs in a bear hug before a tub of Gatorade christened the emotional fifth-year head coach.
You can’t write a script quite like that.
“I’m just so proud of our seniors and our team,” Burroughs said. “They’ve been through so much.
“I don’t want people to forget what our guys, softball and soccer have been through. Just finding anywhere you could go to practice and come ready to play every day. To be able to be where we’re at today from where we were at two years ago, I’m just very proud of our team.”
After UTSA (22-24, 14-17 C-USA) took its first lead of the game at 7-5 following two runs in the fourth and a single run in the fifth, LA Tech’s bats roared to life with seven runs in the fifth and five runs in the seventh to wrap a bow on the division title. The Bulldogs batted around in the bottom of the fifth, plating seven runs behind six hits and three walks.
Right fielder Philip Matulia smacked a leadoff single on the first pitch of the inning to set the tone. A double from Steele Netterville and a walk from Jorge Corona then loaded the bases for the Bulldogs with nobody out in the frame. Despite facing a 1-2 count, shortstop Alex Ray delivered one of his two RBI singles with the bases loaded in the ballgame, driving in Matulia from third to make it 7-6. Leadoff batter Taylor Young then put LA Tech in the lead for good, going down in the zone to serve a two-RBI single into center field for the 8-7 lead.
With three runners already in, the Bulldogs kept their foot on the gas, scoring their final four runs of the inning with two outs. A bases-loaded walk from Cole McConnell, a two-RBI single from Matulia and an RBI single from Netterville stretched the Bulldogs’ lead to 12-7.
The Bulldogs dealt the Roadrunners the final blow with a five-spot in the seventh, scoring the final five runs of the ballgame with one out. McConnell jumpstarted the scoring barrage with a one-out triple to right field. Three straight walks then brought home LA Tech’s 13th run and once again loaded the bases full of Diamond Dogs. Ray’s second RBI single of the game made it 14-7 before Young set up Wells’ walk-off with an RBI walk to make it 15-7.
On a 1-0 count, Wells registered his ninth hit of the weekend to secure the Bulldog victory. The senior third baseman went 2-for-4 with three runs scored, two RBI, a home run and a double on Senior Day.
“We’ve never taken our foot off the gas and have never slowed down,” Wells said. “No lead was safe with UTSA’s offense and how they were swinging the bat.
“We were all just trying to stay positive and keep that momentum on our side. We knew we were playing for the championship, and that helped us get going.”
LA Tech tallied its first four runs of Sunday’s series finale behind a pair two-spots to open the afternoon. Centerfielder Parker Bates, who blasted a three-run walk-off home run in Tech’s game two victory over UTSA in Saturday’s doubleheader, put the Bulldogs on the board first with an RBI single to left field. McConnell then doubled the Bulldogs’ lead in the first with an RBI single to left field.
After the first two batters were retired in the second, Young reached base via an HBP to put a runner on for Wells. A called strike on a 3-0 count extended Wells’ at-bat, and the third baseman made UTSA starter Simon Miller pay with a two-run shot that stayed just fair inside the right-field foul pole.
UTSA got on the scoreboard with four runs in the third to knot the game at 4-4. Tech quickly answered the Roadrunners’ scoring run when Ray lifted a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Netterville from third to make it 5-4 Bulldogs. Ray went 2-for-4 with three RBI in Sunday’s win.
For the first time since LA Tech’s season opener against Air Force, all nine Bulldog starters collected a base hit. Six batters – Wells, Bates, McConnell, Matulia, Netterville and Ray – posted multi-hit performances. Young, Wells, McConnell, Matulia and Ray each registered multiple runs batted in with Wells leading the way with four RBI.
Right-hander Landon Tomkins earned the victory after tossing 2.1 scoreless innings. Tomkins held the Roadrunners hitless and allowed just one walk in the dominant relief appearance.
LA Tech’s 17 runs against the Roadrunners marked the 14th time this season the Bulldogs have reached a double-digit scoring tally. The Bulldogs have also recorded 10 hits or more in 25 of their 50 games this season.
The 2021 C-USA West Division crown marks the first division title for Bulldog Baseball since 1992, which is when LA Tech captured a Sun Belt West Division title with former head coach Mike Kane leading Tech from the home dugout. LA Tech’s 2021 West Division title comes just a little over two years after an EF-3 tornado destroyed its home ballpark on April 25, 2019.
LA Tech will conclude its regular season on Thursday and Friday when Old Dominion (36-14) heads to the Love Shack for a two-game series. Both games will not count toward Conference USA standings. Old Dominion clinched the No. 4 overall seed in the Conference USA Tournament over the weekend.