LaPlace pitcher is national champion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 21, 2006



LAPLACE — Alex McCollum probably didn’t think he’d live his baseball dream quite so fast.

When he accepted a college baseball scholarship to play for the LSU-Eunice Bengals last year, he headed off to the next level with the same dream everyone else has.

&#8220Of course you always want to play for a national championship team,” he said in an interview this week with L’Observateur.

But even McCollum was probably a little surprised to end the recent baseball season with just that-the national Junior College title, which LSUE won over the three-time defending champion team from Grand Rapids, Mich.

&#8220We thought we could do well this year after our fall season when we were unbeaten,” he said. &#8220But to win the national titleŠ.it’s just unbelieveable.”

McCollum graduated from East St. John High School in 2005 and was recruited by a handful of smaller colleges. He picked LSUE because of Coach Jeff Willis, who came across as a strong Christian, and strong disciplinarian.

&#8220I loved the coach since he had very high expectations from everyone on the team,” he said. &#8220Coach preached to work hard and play hard, and I have to admit, it was even tougher than I thought it would be.”

McCollum remembers grueling practices that would run for hours.

&#8220You either liked what he did, or you went home,” he remarked. &#8220I think our practices were probably harder than most Division I schools, and even though I expected tough workouts, they were even more than I imagined.”

But McCollum seemed to thrive under the high standards, coming in as a freshman and becoming a key part of the national championship team as a middle reliever and an occasional starting pitcher.

He finished his senior year at East St. John as a first team all-district selection, going 8-5 on the mound with a 2.24 earned run average, while also hitting .320 when he played shortstop. At college he became exclusively a pitcher, and ended the year with some sparkling numbers at 8-1 in the won-lost column, with a 3.10 ERA.

LSUE doesn’t play in a conference and earned an at-large bid to the post season Junior College national playoffs. They had to go to the regionals against a six-team field, where they went unbeaten in four games. McCollum contributed on the mound just as he did during the season.

That qualified them as one of eight teams in the Junior College World Series in Millington, Tenn, where powerhouse Grand Rapids had won the title for three years in a row.

&#8220We won our first two games, but then lost to Grand Rapids in our third game. That knocked us to the losers bracket, but we won one game there to come back out to the championship match against Grand Rapids again,” he recalled.

That’s where LSUE had to beat the defending champs not once, but two straight games. They did it with a 7-3 win in the first game, then came back in the deciding contest for the title, winning 3-0.

It was the first national championship for LSUE, in the fourth season under Willis’ guidance. The team finished the season with a 52-11 record.

Now McCollom is hoping to move to a Division I school after his second year in the coming season at the junior college.

&#8220Hopefully I’ll get picked up and move up,” he said. &#8220But for now, it was a dream to win a national championship. We were told by some scouts that we were the best junior college team they had ever seen.”

Alex is the son of Rick and Susan McCollom of LaPlace.