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14 Years Ago Today, the Cajuns Qualified for the College World Series

 

 

 

 

courtesy UL Media Relations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana 3, South Carolina 2

NCAA Super-Regional Final

Sarge Frye Field, Columbia, South Carolina

June 4, 2000

When I sat down to do this project, it was pretty easy for me to pick my top five moments covering the Cajuns on the radio.

The problem was which order they’d be in.

As I said before starting this series, it’s entitled “Jay’s Most Memorable Moments.”

And I said your moments might be in a different order.

I thought hard about this, but at the end of the day, this was #1 by a pretty big margin, because it had everything you would want:

A prohibitive underdog not expected to succeed.

A chance to play on baseball’s biggest stage and actually have an opportunity to win a national championship.

A gusty coach’s decision that would have caused some pretty caustic second-guessing if it didn’t work.

But most of all, it was a story.  And, I love stories.

This is the story of Scott Dohmann.

In 1999, the sophomore graduate from St. Thomas More got the start in game two of the Super-Regional at the Astrodome in Houston with a chance to pitch the Cajuns into the College World Series.

He got beat 10-1.

Now, a lesser man may have tried to justify what happened. ….hey, I’ve never been in this position…..hey I’m just a sophomore.

Dohmann didn’t do that.

Instead, he embraced his failure.

He cut out the box score of that game, and when the Cajuns got back to Lafayette after losing game three, he went into the locker room and tacked the box score up in his locker.

Later, underneath, he added:  Every day and every pitch with a purpose.

Dohmann looked at that box score every day when he brought his lunch pail to work that fall.  And, then again in preseason practice.

In the regular season, it paid off.  Dohmann was named Sun Belt Conference pitcher of the year.  He led the league in strikeouts despite having a couple of tough outings down the stretch.

And, now, with the postseason, all he wanted was one more chance.

He had told Tony Robichaux and his team if they put him in the position he was in the previous year, the outcome would be different.

Dohmann pitched the deciding game in the Lafayette Regional against East Carolina and for the second year in a row, the Cajuns were in a Super-Regional.

But, if they were going to go farther; if Scott Dohmann was going to make good on his promise, they had to beat the best college baseball team on the planet.

South Carolina had the best regular season in modern college baseball history.  In the rugged Southeastern Conference and playing a tough non-conference schedule, the Gamecocks put together an incredible 50-6 record during the regular season.  After going 2-2 in the SEC tournament, they swept through their regional and entered the supers with a 55-8 record.

Ray Tanner’s club was good offensively and defensively.  But what made the Gamecocks nearly invincible were the guys on the hill.

They called them “The Killer B’s.  Bouknight, Bauer and Barber

Kip Bouknight (16-1) was the ace.  Not overpowering, but a very good pitcher who threw four pitches for strikes, had great control and an uncanny ability to make a big pitch when he needed to.  Peter Bauer (12-1) was the Saturday guy.  He threw with more velocity and was a second round draft pick that season.  At six foot seven, Bauer could be intimidating.  And then, there was Scott Barber.  Barber (9-1, with 14 saves) was the Friday closer and the Sunday starter.

Do the math.  The three combined for a record of 37-3 and saved fourteen games.

This was going to be a daunting task.  And, frankly, I wasn’t expecting much.  Not that I didn’t think the Cajuns were really good.  I just knew how good their opponent was.

But as the old adage goes, you don’t have to be the best team, you just have to be the best over three games.

Kyle Seibold, my wife and I made the drive from Lafayette.  It took about twelve hours, counting the flat tire we had just south of Montgomery, Alabama.

On Friday morning before game one, my brother and his wife came in from their home in Aiken County, about an hour away.  We spent most of the day together and during our visit he asked if the Cajuns could win.

“I don’t know.  This is gonna be tough.  These guys are really, really good,” I told him.

Robichaux decided to go with left-hander Justin Gabriel in game one just as he did in the regional in Lafayette.  Gabriel won nine games in his first year with the Cajuns and Robichaux thought the lefty would match up well against the Carolina lineup.

And, for the first six innings, Gabriel gave the Cajuns every chance, putting up zero after zero on the scoreboard.

There was only one problem.  Bouknight was so good, he was perfect.

Bouknight retired the first 21 Cajuns in order and South Carolina finally broke through against Gabriel in the bottom of the seventh on a two run homer by Tripp Kelly and a two out grand slam by Drew Meyer.  The Cajuns finally got to Bouknight with five hits and three runs in the final two innings, but Barber came in and got his 15th save as Bouknight tied his school record with his 17th win, 6-3.

We went back the hotel, assuming Dohmann would get the start in game two.  After all, when you’re down 1-0, you can’t get to Sunday unless you win on Saturday so the Cajuns would have to pitch their ace, right?

Well, not necessarily.

Tony Robichaux looked at it differently.  The Cajuns were going to have to win two games to get to the College World Series and Robichaux felt as though if you lost, it didn’t matter if it was in two games or three games, the result would be the same.

He called Dohmann and freshman left hander Andy Gros to his room.  Robichaux said he didn’t want to coach to come close to getting to the College World Series.  He had to coach to win the whole thing.  He looked at Dohmann and said if the Cajuns were going to win it, Dohmann had to be on the mound on Sunday.  But, in case the Cajuns didn’t get to Sunday, he was apologizing in advance in the room on Friday night.

Then Robichaux said he believed the Cajuns could get to Sunday and turned to Gros.

“You’re the guy who’s going to get us there,” he said.

Gros, who had pitched in front of big crowds during the season at LSU and Wichita State, along with a performance in the regional, just nodded and said “yes, sir.”

Dohmann told Robichaux he was making the right decision and told Gros he knew the lefty would get the Cajuns to Sunday.

Now, I didn’t know any of this had taken place.

On Saturday morning, I got on the elevator to head to the lobby where I was going to record my pre-game interview with Robe.  Andy Gros was on the elevator when I got on.

“Gotta find a way to get this done today,” I told him.

“Yes, sir, I will,” he said.

About that time the elevator arrived and we got out.  I was a little curious about Gros’ comment.

Robe clarified it when we sat down.

“I’m going with Andy today.  I don’t want to get close to Omaha.  I want to play there and I just think I need Scott in the deciding game.”

I told Robichaux if it didn’t work out, he’d get crucified by the fans.  He just smiled and nodded.

As game two got underway, South Carolina batted first and it couldn’t have started worse for the Cajuns.

Single, single, double.

1-0.  Runners at second and third.  No outs.

Robichaux went out to the mound to visit Gros and I asked Andy later what Robe had said.

“Just the usual,” he said. “Minimize the damage and stay away from the three run inning.”

The great thing about freshmen is, they’re so coachable.

Pop up.  Strikeout. Fly ball.  Inning over.  Damage minimized.

The Cajuns got all the runs Gros would need when they got two in the bottom of the first off Bauer.

Gros allowed one hit the rest of the way, striking out ten with no walks as the Cajuns knocked Bauer out of the game after four innings and won going away, 7-1.

Dohmann was going to get a chance to make good on his promise.

Back at the hotel, the local news was on the big screen in the lobby.  They did a live shot from the stadium.  The reporter said the Gamecocks were going to have to face the Cajuns’ ace.

Now, I don’t remember what name he used….but it wasn’t Scott.  And, it wasn’t Dohmann.

A few minutes later I saw Dohmann and called him over.  I told him what had happened with the report and told him, “after you beat them tomorrow, find that guy and say ‘what’s my name.’”  He laughed.

I have to admit, as we got ready to go on the air Sunday, I was, for one of the few times, pretty nervous.  I’ve done, total, more than 1500 sporting events on the radio.  I can honestly say I’ve never wanted to win a game as badly as I did on that day.

Both Barber and Dohmann had their good stuff on that Sunday.  Dohmann allowed a leadoff single in the first inning.  At the end of the fifth, it was only hit he had given up.  Barber also allowed just one hit through five.

In the top of the sixth (Cajuns were the home team), number nine hitter John McHenry had a bunt single to lead off and went to second when Nathan Nelson threw the ball away.  Tanner elected not to bunt and Nate Janowicz flied to center.  Drew Meyer got an infield hit to put runners at the corners with one out.  But Dohmann got Brennan Dees and Brandon Pack to hit lazy fly balls to left and got out of the inning unscathed.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Cajuns finally broke through when first baseman Jess Poche led off with a single.  Chase Bundy ran for Poche and went to second on a sacrifice by shortstop Rick Haydel.  Leadoff hitter Steven Feehan followed with a base hit, scoring Bundy and the Cajuns led 1-0.

The lead didn’t last long.

In the top of the seventh, Trey Dyson walked and Tripp Kelly hit his second homer of the series to give South Carolina a 2-1 lead.  It was really the only bad pitch Dohmann threw in his entire outing.  But the Cajuns were down to their final nine outs and had only managed three singles off Barber through the first six innings.

Will Hawkins led off the bottom of the sixth with a base hit and Robichaux sent in Bret Bailey to run for Hawkins.  Tommy Clark then laid down a perfect push bunt and beat it out for a hit.  DH Jarvis Larry bunted the runners to second and third, but Scott Atwood, who had been inserted at first base after Poche was removed for a pinch runner, popped up.

That left it up to Haydel, the number nine hitter in the lineup.  Haydel had proven all season to be a clutch hitter for the Cajuns and was one of the team leaders in two out rbi.  He ripped Barber’s first pitch curveball deep to left field and it went off the wall for a double, giving the Cajuns a 3-2 lead.  Seated next to me, Kyle Seibold pumped his fist and turned and looked at me.  His expression said, “we’re going to win this thing.”

Dohmann had done his job.  He did what Robichaux asks of his starting pitchers.  He had given the Cajuns a chance to win.  Over seven innings, he allowed four hits, walking two and striking out six.  Dohmann was at 109 pitches and had showed some signs of tiring on a sweltering hot day. With two lefties at the top of the order due to lead off the eighth, Robichaux elected to go to the bullpen.  Left hander Brian Babin was going to face two batters.  Janowicz singled and Meyer bunted him to second.  Robichaux went back out to the mound and called for Gordon O’Brien.

O’Brien was only a sophomore, but he was called “Grandpa” by his teammates, because at the age of 24, he was the oldest player on the team.  He had played in Canada, and came to the Cajuns on a recommendation from another Canadian, former Cajuns’ ace Phil Devey.  O’Brien had perhaps the best curve ball in the Robichaux era and, in his first two years as a Cajun, struck out 94 batters in 58 innings.  Aaron Welborne had been the Cajuns’ closer most of the year, but O’Brien took over that role when Welborne came up with a sore arm.  O’Brien got two fly balls to get out of the inning and the Cajuns were three outs away.

O’Brien took the mound for the ninth inning.  When he got ahead on the count, the Canadian was almost unhittable with that curve ball.  But when he got behind he had to come in with a very pedestrian fastball.  That’s what happened with the leadoff hitter in the ninth and Tripp Kelly doubled to left.

My stomach was in knots.  And, I wondered if this was going to be another case of the little guy coming close and just falling short.

With the bottom three of the order coming up, Ray Tanner went to his bench and sent up Bryon Jeffcoat to pinch hit for Chris Plummer.  Everyone in the ball park knew Jeffcoat would be bunting the runner to third.  But he popped up the bunt to O’Brien and Kelly held at second.  Shane Nelson was then set up to pinch hit for Marcus McBeth.  O’Brien got ahead on the count and struck him out with a wicked curveball.

That brought up Bo Mobley to pinch hit for John McHenry.  The top of the order was next with Janowicz and I was certain O’Brien had to get Mobley or the Cajuns would be in deep trouble.  Mobley hit a ground ball to the right of Atwood at first base.  In my mind, Atwood would have to field the ball and negotiate a throw to O’Brien at first base.

But then I saw Atwood raise his hand, signalling to O’Brien that he would make the play himself.

I said something about ending the 2000 season in baseball’s version of Oz as the Cajuns dogpiled at first base.

Tony Robichaux’s decision turned out to be the right one.

Scott Dohmann had kept his promise.

I went to a commercial break.  I don’t know how or why, but my wife was in the press box, just on the other side of a partition.  We met each other, hugged and we both cried a little.

After a long post game show culminating with a conversation with Robe,  the broadcast was over. We tore down our equipment but for some reason, we weren’t quite ready to leave. I went downstairs where the last of the South Carolina fans were leaving in stunned silence.  I locked eyes with several of them.  One said congratulations.  The others just kept on walking.

We were ready to make the long drive back to Lafayette, but ran into Kevin DeRamus, who was the media liaison for the Sun Belt Conference.  Kevin, who was a UL grad and had worked in the sports information department here, said he talked to the Commissioner and Wright Waters suggested DeRamus buy a steak dinner for all of the media there to cover the Cajuns.

Well, come to think of it, I was a little hungry.

The steak was great.  I couldn’t celebrate with a cocktail because I’d be driving, but the soft drink tasted pretty good, too.

Finally, it was time to say our goodbyes and head home.  But as we walked outside, the Cajuns’ team bus rolled up.  We met the coaches and players as they got off the bus.  It was my first chance to congratulate Wade Simoneaux, Anthony Babineaux and Jason Gonzales, the assistant coaches. I congratulated all the players as well.

The last player to get off the bus was Scott Dohmann.  I hugged him and congratulated him.  He whispered, “what’s my name?”  We both laughed and hugged again.

It’s a long drive from Columbia to Lafayette, especially when you’ve worked and eaten a huge steak.  But the ride is always shorter when you win.  I drove as far as Mobile and turned it over to Kyle.  We got to Breaux Bridge just before six am.  I asked him to stop at a convenience store, because I knew the morning edition of the Daily Advertiser would be available.

Dan McDonald had left his job at UL just a few months before and was working as the Cajuns beat writer.  He quoted O’Brien at the beginning of the story.

“This,” Grandpa said, “is what you see when you dream.”

I got choked up all over again.   We were all exhausted but there was much to be done.  We would be leaving for Omaha in just over 48 hours and there were flights and hotels to book and rental cars to reserve.

We were off to see the Wizard.

(NCAA Box Scores, Information from UL Sports Information, and Daily Advertiser articles (courtesy Dan McDonald) contributed to this story.)

 

 

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