It was an evening of joy, but also of sadness, as LSU at Eunice coaches and administration bid a fond farewell to the sophomores of the national championship baseball team Sunday.
Family and teammates gathered one last time, three days after winning the Division II World Series, for the annual Bengal Banquet.
LSUE Chancellor William ‘Bill’ Nunez defined a champion as one who exhibits a desire for success, good character and the ability to work with others for the greater good.
“I see a room full of champions here tonight,” Nunez said.
Bengal Head Coach Jeff Willis, who has guided the team to three national appearances and two national championships in his six years at LSUE, said that the spirit of camaraderie and cooperation in this year’s team convinced him early on that his team had the makings of national champions.
In particular, Willis said that the guidance of Perry Smith, Alex McCollum and Boomer Blanchard, who had been with the team two years ago, as well as the team captains, helped lead the team to victory.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that we would have leadership better than we had in ‘06,” Willis said.
Only two Bengals, outfielder Delta Cleary and pitcher Ryan Boudreaux, were voted to the All-Region 23 team, a decision that Willis disagreed very strongly with.
“I wasn’t very happy that we had just two guys on the All-Region team,” Willis said. “I truly feel we should have had at least four or five guys make the team.”
Both players were named to the All-American teams; being named to a regional team is a prerequisite for the honor.
Cleary was named to the All-American First Team, and Boudreaux was named to the Second Team.
In addition, Cleary was named to the national Rawlings Gold Glove Team and was voted Most Valuable Offensive Player by his teammates. Boudreaux was voted Most Valuable Defensive Player by his teammates.
Boomer Blanchard was awarded Most Valuable Player by his fellow Bengals, and Michael Billings, who moved from pitcher to catcher this year, was given the Coaches Award.
Phil Dupre, known affectionately by the team as “Mr. Fee”, presented his own awards, including a pitching award to Boudreaux, who ended the championship game against Lenoir with his 100th strikeout of the season.
Another award, a baseball bat signed by every player after they hit a home run, was awarded to Kellen Bozeman, who led the team in home runs on the season. The bat was covered in signatures this year.
But the season was more than just success on the field, Willis said. He saw his players mature into young men who had gained the life skills that would make them better future husbands, fathers and members of their communities, a sentiment echoed by many of the players.
“I saw some guys grow up this year that I never thought would grow up,” Willis said. “They became true champions, both on the field, and off the field and in the community.”
“In the big scheme of things, winning the national championship, winning that trophy doesn’t mean anything. What means are the memories that took place this year and the things that these guys learned about life, about how to become a better father and a better person. Those are the things that truly, truly matter.”