EUNICE — Although the success of his program might indicate otherwise, LSU-Eunice baseball coach Jeff Willis doesn’t totally agree with the notion that a junior college dynasty has developed at the school over the past decade.
The Bengals have won four National Junior College Athletic Association Division II titles in the past seven years and have never finished lower than seventh in any of the final NJCAA polls.
During the past 10 seasons under Willis, LSUE has made six NJCAA World Series appearances and has ranked first among NJCAA teams at some point every year since 2006.
LSUE enters Friday’s 6 p.m. season opener against North Lake College at Bengal Stadium ranked first in the NJCAA preseason poll after finishing 57-5 and adding another national championship in 2012.
So just how does Willis view LSUE baseball at present, after casting a glance at what has been done during the past 10 seasons?
“To call something a dynasty, I don’t know what the definition of a sports dynasty would be. I guess it would be something where you’ve won a bunch of championships, but I think you have to do something more than win championships,” said Willis, who also serves as LSUE’s athletic director.
“Four championships in seven years, could be an indication (of a dynasty), but I want to be cautious when you call something a dynasty. I think that’s a scary word when someone puts it out there,” he said.
LSUE’s position among the junior college elite is far different than it was when Willis first began recruiting players.
Willis recalls those early days, when potential recruits seemed incredulous that there was even a college located in Eunice, much less one than contained baseball program.
Starting shortstop Garrett Deschamp, who played at Parkview Baptist, said it’s obvious why the Bengals play the college game at such an elevated level.
“Every year here, your goal is to win a national championship. It’s national championship or bust. Personally, I like that pressure. When you win it, that just makes a championship that much sweeter,” said Deschamp, who has signed a scholarship to play at Tulane next season.
Deschamp disagreed with the idea of placing LSUE’s baseball program in the dynastic realm at this point, but said there’s no doubt it’s a situation that reflects a high degree of achievement.
Like Willis, Deschamp is hesitant about attaching the dynastic perception.
“I won’t call it a dynasty yet. Call it very accomplished. That’s because with coach Willis, it’s never enough. It’s always got to be 100 percent, whether you’re picking up grass or ground balls. That’s what’s gotten us four national championships,” Deschamp said.
Deschamp and outfielder Landon Thibodeaux, who played at Central High, are among the key returnees on a roster featuring three returning starters and bullpen ace Will Bacon, who won’t be ready to pitch until next month after injuring his arm preparing for the season.
“We have about half the team back from last year. Our strength is up the middle, where we return starters in the middle of the defense, and we have some of our key pitching back,” Willis said
Among those are Friday’s scheduled starter, Brady Domingue, who signed with LSU in the fall. Another LSU fall signee, Zac Person, is projected to start Sunday’s game against North Lake, Willis said.
Centerfielder Adam Angelle, who played at Lafayette’s Teurlings Catholic, is a returning starter, along with second baseman Casey Rodrigue, Willis said.
Thibodeaux said much of the Bengals’ success is traced to the types of players Willis selects.
“You have guys that display character off the field. In this program you are expected to what you have to do and do it right. If you do everything right, then the good things are going to fall for you,” Thibodeaux said.
Knowing what’s expected at LSUE every year doesn’t mean there’s added pressure, said Thibodeaux, who has signed to play next season at Delta State.
“You just sit back and enjoy it,” he said.
One of the new additions to the lineup is catch Evan Powell, who played at LSU last season. Willis said Powell’s transfer to Eunice will allow him to obtain more chances at the plate that he had last spring.
Willis said the Bengals begin the season paying little attention to what’s being said before the first game.
“Preseason is usually based on what you did last season and the talent that you have coming back the next year. The identity of each team here has never been distracted by whether they win a national championship.
“Instead we focus more on whether we are playing our best baseball at the end of the year,” Willis said.
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