Losuteau, UNO turned it around in 2000

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 17, 2000

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / June 17, 2000

RESERVE – Ryan Lousteau is still amazed how much things can change in a year.

In May of 1999, he was a reserve outfielder on a University of New Orleans team closing out a 25-34 season at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

A year later on that same field, Lousteau, now the Privateers’ closer, was putting the finishing touches on a three-game sweep of the Cajuns that wrapped up the Sun Belt Conference title.

“I went from the lowest point of my career to the highest point in exactly one year,” Lousteau said.

When Lousteau joined UNO, closing was probably one of the furthest things from his mind. He appeared in 22 games during his junior year, batting .279with two home runs and nine RBIs.

During the season, Lousteau kept jokingly asking Privateer pitching coach Wally Whitehurst if he wanted him to work out on the mound. It got to be arunning gag between the two so when Whitehurst came to him during the fall and asked him to get in the bullpen, Lousteau thought he was just pulling his leg again. Whitehurst was serious. Then Whitehurst asked Lousteau to throw sidearm. Now Lousteau reallythought he was joking. But the Privateer coaches were looking for someoneto throw sidearm and thought Lousteau could do it.

So for the first time since he was the number three starter at Riverside his senior year in high school, Lousteau came in to pitch in the Privateers’ opener against Oral Roberts. He did mop-up duty in that game, a 16-7 loss.Lousteau remained an outfielder for much of the early part of the season, batting .273 with five runs batted in in 22 at-bats. But with UNO clinging to a4-3 lead in the eighth inning in its home game against Sun Belt Conference leader Louisiana-Lafayette May 25, Lousteau got the call from the bullpen.

With the tying run on second, Lousteau got the third out of the inning and closed out the ninth for his first career save.

“That was the first time I pitched under pressure,” Lousteau said.

It would not be the last. He went on to lead the team with eight saves and anearned run average of 3.00 in a team-high 31 appearances.Three of those appearances came in the season-ending series at Louisiana- Lafayette. The Privateers went into the three-game stretch trailing theRagin’ Cajuns by two games in the Sun Belt Conference race.

“That was the great thing about the team, we were a loose bunch,” Lousteau said of the team’s attitude going into the series. “We took things in strideday by day. We knew going in it was going to be tough. But we knew we weregoing to go up there and play hard all three games and it worked out for us.

It was a great feeling. It really was.” UNO captured the first game, 8-1, as Lousteau came in to pitch the ninth inning. The next day, he pitched the final two innings, giving up a run on threehits as UNO won 8-5. Then on Sunday, he pitched the final 1/3 of an inning asthe Privateers completed the sweep of a team that would eventually reach the College World Series, 6-2.

“It was great to be able to close out all three games,” Lousteau said. Besideswinning the state championship in high school (with Riverside), that was the greatest feeling of my high school career. We definitely earned it. We earnedit on the field. We went up there and won it on the field. We controlled ourown destiny. We knew it was going to be tough but we did it.”Lousteau gave credit to first-year Privateer coach Randy Bush for the team’s turnaround. Bush, an UNO alum, won World Series titles in 1987 and1991 playing for the Minnesota Twins.

“He brought excitement and he had Major League experience,” Lousteau said.

“How you could not respect a guy who had won a World Series ring? He had our respect even before he talked yo us. He had been there.”From day one, he brought in us 11 seniors and said ‘It is your team, I’m just along for the ride.’ He wanted to change it around now. He wanted to win withus.”Lousteau said the turnaround began in the Winn-Dixie Showdown in the Superdome. UNO defeated Alabama and Tulane and lost to Auburn in extrainnings. All three of those teams were nationally-ranked at the time.”We played well in the Dome,” Lousteau said. “We beat two nationally-rankedteams and could have beaten another. After that, it was, ‘Hey, we can playwith these guys.'”UNO would go on to finish 38-25 overall and 20-9 in the Sun Belt Conference.

Those victories also included wins at Mississippi State and at home against Louisiana-Monroe, both regional-bound teams.

UNO played in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament after the season, winning twice before being eliminated by South Alabama. The Privateers thenadvanced to the NCAA Regionals in Baton Rouge. UNO lost to Louisiana-Monroe in the opener before defeating Jackson State, 24-9. Louisiana-Monroe ended the Privateers’ season with a 10-4 victory later that evening.

“We knew what we faced going in,” Lousteau said of a regional that also included LSU. “But we went in with the attitude we can do this. It just didn’twork out.”But Lousteau said just making the regional showed that the team was on the right track.

“It was a goal to get the program back to where it needed to be and the regional was the first step to that,” Lousteau said.

Lousteau is attending school this summer to finish up his degree in general studies. He is also helping new Riverside coach Davey Clement with theRebels’ Metro and American Legion teams. Often this means getting up earlyto go to class in New Orleans, going straight back to Riverside and working with the team until late in the evening.

“But if I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t be doing it,” Lousteau said.

Just as Bush gained the respect of his players with his experience in the Major Leagues, Lousteau has also gained the respect of the Rebels with his college experience. Lousteau said he has been getting a lot of questions fromthe players about what it is like in college.

“I think it’s good I’m around to be able to answer their questions before they get there.”As for the team he just left, Lousteau sees the Privateers continuing the climb back to where the program was in the early 1980s when it was first Louisiana school to make it to Omaha for the College World Series.

“I think the program will go back to where it should be and be a team to be reckoned with every year,” Lousteau said.

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