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Bulldogs crush Rider 18-2 in regional opener

Wells becomes Tech's hit king
Brian Trahan
Saturday, June 5, 2021
Hunter Wells breaks hits record

Photo by Tom Morris

Louisiana Tech senior Hunter Wells celebrates Friday at J.C. Love Field after a monster night at the plate. He broke the school's career hits record and blasted two home runs with 9 RBIs in an 18-2 win over Rider.

What a week Hunter Wells had Friday night.

The Louisiana Tech senior blasted two home runs and totaled nine RBIs while setting the tone early in an 18-2 rout over Rider in the opening round of the NCAA Ruston Regional at J.C. Love field at Pat Patterson Park.

Before the capacity crowd of 2,634 could get comfortable wherever they were sitting in the ballpark, Tech led 3-0. And the onslaught didn’t let up from that point.

Wells slammed an opposite field homer in the first inning just two batters in, and when Manny Garcia added an RBI single, the 3-0 lead sent a message that the Bulldogs (41-18) weren’t going to be hospitable hosts.

“Going in I was concerned that none of our guys played in a regional before and you had that added pressure of hosting a regional,” Tech head coach Lane Burroughs said. “It adds pressure because you want to do so well in front of your home crowd. I don’t think we could have been much looser. So they answered my question right out of the gate.

“We get one, two, three in the first and then our guys respond with a three spot and a two and it’s 5-0 and we give (Jonathan) Fincher a cushion. I thought obviously we were locked in offensively,” he continued.

While Friday night ace Fincher was setting the Broncs down in order the first two innings, the Tech sticks were quenching the fans’ thirst for postseason action. In the bottom of the second, Alex Ray reached on an infield single and Taylor Young walked ahead of that man, Wells, again. This time he laced a two-run double to right field and it’s 5-0.

Wells certainly had the flare for the dramatic on this night. With that swing in the second inning, he accomplished two records in Tech annals. He became the all-time hits leader with 270 in his career, passing former star T.J. Soto, who was in attendance at the game. He also broke his own single-season hits record of 91 he set in 2018.

Wells would end the game going 4-for-5 with four runs to go with his 9 RBIs. He homered twice, including a grand slam in the eighth inning. His evening ended with an amazing 12 total bases.

“It’s a fantastic feeling when you have the crowd behind you and everyone is cheering. Everyone is telling me about this record and it’s all I hear about,” Wells said. “To get it out of the way and to come out and get the W tonight it’s fantastic. There’s no greater feeling. I was telling someone when I hit the home run, there is nothing greater in this world than hitting a home run for me. That is the pinnacle.”

“Hunter Wells had a great night. He had 9 RBIs and also broke the school all-time hits record. I couldn’t be more proud of him. He only did that in three-plus years. He’s the all-time hit king in Louisiana Tech baseball,” Burroughs added.

Fincher (8-3), meanwhile, was dealing on the mound. He ended up going eight innings and allowing two runs on six hits. Burroughs explained what makes Fincher so tough.

“Fincher was really attacking the strike zone. I don’t think he had his best stuff. I thought he was laboring, but that’s what aces do,” he said. “They reach down deep and they find something extra to empty the tank.”

It also did the Diamond Dogs a favor in a regional format by eating up innings and pitch count. Burroughs was able to get Tanner Knight in the game to finish off the ninth, but the rest of the bullpen remains fresh.

They’ll need all hands on deck Saturday squaring off with North Carolina State, an 8-1 winner over Alabama earlier in the day Friday. The Wolfpack and Bulldogs are set for 6 p.m., weather permitting.

Tech added a single run in the fourth to increase the lead to 6-0 on an RBI single by Cole McConnell to plate Young, who would also stand out with a 2-for-3 performance with five runs scored. Young took over the national lead in runs and now has 80 on the season — also breaking the Tech record of 76.

The Bulldogs extended the lead to 9-0 in the fifth on an RBI double by Wells and a two-run jack by Parker Bates.

For good measure, Tech added nine more runs in the eighth inning. With each run scored, the capacity crowd kept the atmosphere jumping, something that wasn’t lost on Burroughs.

“It felt like a football atmosphere. I took it in all day long. I watched a little of the Alabama and NC State game and I just looked around and thought, ‘Hey, we’re hosting a regional. This is big time.’ I thought the crowd was electric,” he said.
Rider (23-17) falls to the losers bracket and will face Alabama Saturday at 1 p.m. The winner of that game will play the loser of the Tech-NC State matchup in an elimination game Sunday. The loser will be eliminated from the NCAA tournament.