Final season of a historic career comes to close
Special to The Record
Yes, there was a loss Thursday afternoon for the Lamar University baseball team. Yes, it eliminated the Cardinals from the Southland Conference Tournament. But most importantly, the historic career of a tremendous, lifelong, hall of fame baseball coach came to a close.
Thursday’s elimination game in the second round of the tournament had eight-seeded Stephen F. Austin upsetting the fourth-seeded Cardinals 5-2, but it was the final game of Jim Gilligan’s career as head coach of the LU baseball club.
All told, Gilligan finished a 40-year head coaching career (39 seasons with Lamar alone) that saw a staggering 1,353 wins, which ranks him 13th all-time among NCAA coaches. His final record as a skipper is 1,353-894-5. His no. 29 jersey is retired and the Southland Conference regular season trophy is named in his honor.
The Cardinals (35-19), who were staked to an early three-run deficit, tried to rally but never could catch the Lumberjacks (28-29), who added to their lead with insurance runs in the seventh and eighth innings.
Billy Love (6-5) – nursing a blistered finger- ran into early trouble when three-straight singles loaded the bases before he could get an out in the first inning. Cleanup hitter Garrett McMullen squared around to squeeze home Tyler Kendrick, who led off the frame with a single that skipped by Stijn van der Meer’s glove at shortstop.
Up 1-0 with two in scoring position, Connor Fikes punched one through the right side that scored Nick Ramos and moved up Kyle Thornell- who scored on a sacrifice fly from Zac Michener- to third base.
Love was pulled after Fikes’ single and Jayson McKinley took the hill to settle things down. Love’s final numbers were 1/3 of an inning pitched with all three runs his responsibility.
“Obviously looking back maybe I should’ve started McKinley today. Billy just didn’t have it, but that didn’t stop him from giving it everything he did had,” said Gilligan. “I knew what I would get from a courage a standpoint.”
McKinley looked like he returned to form for the third-straight outing. He worked five scoreless innings with just three hits and one walk. The lone run he gave up in the seventh was unearned after he slipped trying to field a bunted ball.
The Friendswood native finished with six full innings of work and a lone unearned run scored on him. He gave up four hits and one walk.
“Mac did a great job in the ball game,” said Gilligan. “It’s been fun to watch him get back to what we know he can be.”
The LU offense tried to make headway while he was on the mound with runs in the third and fourth innings, but with the wind blowing in on a power-oriented lineup proved crucial.
With one out in the third, Brendan Satran hit a towering popup on the third-base side of the infield that had all four infielders crashing along with the catcher. First baseman Garrett McMullen whiffed trying to make the catch and touched the ball on the bounce before it when foul.
Van der Meer, who finished his career with a .363 batting average that ranks third all-time at LU, scorched a ball that scooted right by McMullen’s glove and rolled into right field for a triple. The RBI was the 20th of his season. Van der Meer and McKinley were two of 11 seniors the Cardinals said goodbye to.
In the fourth, back-to-back singles from Reid Russell and Trey Silvers put two on for Bryndan Arredondo’s double to right center that scored Russell. SFA’s pitcher, Austin Hagy was able to end the rally with back-to-back strikeouts.
“I thought we had a chance to win today. (SFA) did a great job,” said Gilligan. “We had our opportunities, but they did a good job pitching to us. Sometimes you have to tip your hat.”
Lamar had a chance at another rally in the fifth after a leadoff walk and single later, but a double play ended the threat. In the eighth, already down 4-2, LU put two aboard, but couldn’t cash in.
Van der Meer and McDowell led the way offensively for LU with two hits apiece in the eight-hit contest. The middle of the order (Russell, Silvers, Robin Adames and Arredondo all added one each).
The Cardinals had a tremendous turnaround from last season’s 21-win campaign. They defeated the likes of Arizona, LSU and Texas. Heading into the year they were predicted to finish ninth in Southland play, and ended the season tied for third.
“These kids had a great year. They beat some great people,” said Gilligan. “I’m proud of them, really proud of them.
“There is enough of them coming back that I think they are going to make some noise, and Will (Davis) has been doing a great job with them” he said. “I’m turning it over to very capable people. Will is a special guy.”
SFA Head Coach Johnny Cardenas said, “You give a man like Jim Gilligan all the credit that’s due. He has been doing this for a long time and we’re humbled to have been the last game he had in the Southland Conference. Between myself and our team, we wish him nothing but the best. He has done a lot for our sport, a lot for the conference and he’s going to be missed.”