The bus is headed home. The ball didn’t bounce the Bengals’ way in this afternoon’s elimination round, as they came out on the short end. I don’t feel particularly inspired to write much about the game itself, because disappointment casts a heavy damper on the powers of invention. Suffice it to say the other team won, and our folks and friends and family are on their way home. The bus is humming southbound on I-35 through central Oklahoma even as I write, about 9:00 p.m., since there just wasn’t any good reason to spend another night.
Rather than write about the loss, I’ll just try to put the situation in perspective. Let’s go back to last fall. Here was a brand new flock of freshmen. Only one starting position player from the 08 World Champion team returned, and we found out he was lost for the season with an injury even before the fall ball exhibition season started. So here were all these unproven 18 year olds (along with a couple of equally unproven but significantly more mature 24 year old ex-Marines, who had an impact on the season that no one would have imagined!).
I recall watching practice back then with my Bengal Stadium pressbox buddy, Mr. Fee. We’d scratch our heads and look at one another, wondering out loud, “Is this gonna be a long season?” The boys looked and acted like high school kids at times. Even Coach Willis in those days conceded that whatever team emerged from this freshman class would likely take some lumps early on, although I believe he saw enough talent to believe they could make a decent stand by the second half of the season.
Anyway, we lowered our expectations. And the season started. Except for that anomalous game at Panola early on, all this team seemed to do was brutalize opponents’ pitching. Few games, especially home games, seemed to last beyond five or six innings because of the “mercy killing” ten-run rule. But even two-thirds of the way through the season, when I’d ask Coach Orgaine about his squad with the gaudy won-loss record they were amassing, his remarks were cautious, amounting to “Let’s not get the hopes up too high . . . we are beating up on mediocre teams, etc etc, so what?”
By the end of the season, though, and then the way they handled themselves in the Regional tournament, most of us were willing to compare them to last year’s national champs. On paper, the stats were comparable. On the field, the skill and character showed in the way they played that aggressive brand of what I call “Bengal Ball.” They were brutally impressive in the regional tournament, clearly in a class above the competition. So we sent them to Enid, brimming with confidence that the LSUE Bengals were the team to beat.
And they truly were, regardless of what happened in Enid. In fact, I’m not going to lower my estimation of this gang. First of all, they hardly bowed out meekly in the early rounds of the Series. Except for today’s loss, they were formidable opponents to whomever lined up in the opposing dugout. The ball can bounce funny ways at this level of competition, to the degree that (in my opinion) the team that wins the championship has to have a little luck to go along with its talent. Today, for sure, we had no luck at all (no excuse for getting beat, mind you!).
Also, this team will be back next year. (Remember: all of the position players are freshmen!). I’ll predict right now that LSUE will return to the World Series next year, and they’ll be a year older and bigger and stronger, physically as well as mentally. If they keep their heads screwed on straight, look out, NJCAA Division II!
Finally, I can’t lower my estimation of these kids because I’ve rooted too hard for them all year long to turn away from them. I think I can truly say I’m as proud of them tonight on their way home, eliminated, as I’d be if this were Saturday night and they were coming home with the championship trophy stowed in the bus’s luggage compartment. Shucks, they’re our guys!
And in addition to “our guys,” of course, there’s my girl. Above, I posted the dugout picture from Enid in this “good night” tournament blog because daughter and Bengal student trainer Ann is right in the middle of all those baseball players, just like she’s been the past two years. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to see this last round of games in person, so I’m grateful to radio station KVPI, the voice of Bengal sports, for posting that photo in a tournament gallery on the station’s website.
So what else is there to say about Bengals Baseball 2009? Maybe I’ll have more thoughts in days to come, but for tonight, this is a good state to leave it. We pray for their safe passage home, for happy reunions with family and friends, and find solace in the refreshing thought that next season will arrive in due course.
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