Crowder baseball calls to mind former Pittsburg State football coach Dennis Franchione’s old phrase “Kick Ass with Class.”
Not only because of the shared Southeast Kansas roots of Franchione and Crowder head coach Travis Lallemand, but because of both the on-field success of Crowder baseball and the fact the Roughriders have a reputation for playing the game and doing things both on the field and off the field the right way.
The ‘Riders, currently ranked No. 8 in NJCAA Division I, have logged at least 40 wins in seven of the last eight seasons and Lallemand earned the Homa Thomas Sportsmanship award at last season’s JUCO World Series.
The ‘Riders reached another milestone on Thursday — a 15-2 run-rule win over Region 16 foe Maple Woods in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Roughrider Field gave Lallemand his 500th career victory as Crowder head coach.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Lallemand said between games Thursday. “I probably take more pride in that (doing things the right way) than any of the wins. We’ve done it the right way. We’ve treated players correctly. We’ve got them opportunities to move on. Not only are they doing it on the field, but the GPAs and the graduation rates and the transfer rates are off-the-charts, so I think that’s how we’ve sustained it because they know that there’s beneficial things for them at the end, as well.”
Crowder improved to 19-5 overall and 6-0 Region 16 with a run-rule sweep of Maple Woods and the ‘Riders seem well on their way to another successful season, continuing a fine tradition.
In this decade alone, the ‘Riders have only winning seasons, currently 362 wins, two JUCO World Series appearances (2010, 2017), three Region 16 tournament titles, four Region 16 tournament runner-ups, and every June it seems like current and former Crowder players (especially pitchers) are being picked in the MLB Draft or being signed as undrafted free agents.
“I haven’t thrown a pitch or got an at-bat,” Lallemand said, “so it’s a testament to all the good players we’ve had over the years and plus my coaching staff has probably been here for 300-plus of them. We’ve been able to keep that together a long time and that’s the story of a lot of our success. Now, 500 is great and we can focus on 501 here in a minute. It’s great. I’m not going to take anything from it, I’ve been able to stay at it long enough to do it. It’s an accomplishment, I’m not going to negate that, but it’s one of the things the players have done it. They’ve bought into our system, we’ve had a great run, and hopefully, it keeps going.”
Former Crowder players are known as “Ghostriders,” the special fraternity of men who have put on the Crowder uniform.
Two former players, Kyle Williams and Tyler Sawyer, are on Lallemand’s coaching staff and their presence epitomizes the atmosphere around the Crowder program that makes people (especially players) feel special.
“They were here on the first World Series team in 2010,” Lallemand said. “They came back on another group (2011) that won 42 games. Not only were they great players here, but they’re continuing their legacy as coaches, as well, and I couldn’t be happier to have those guys beside me, because it’s like a family. It’s not your typical coaching staff. Those guys have been around me a long time. Just the whole way we run the program, it’s a family-oriented environment, so this 500 wins is shared among every player who’s ever put that uniform on.”
Williams and Sawyer have been Crowder assistants for six years.
The family atmosphere extends to Crowder athletic trainer Jennifer Lallemand, Coach Lallemand’s wife, and young Luc, the Lallemands’ 3-year-old son who has enjoyed the experience of being around many 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old older brothers on a daily basis.
The players, of course, enjoy being around young Luc, often slapping the youngest Lallemand high-fives or giving him fist bumps after a Crowder win or playing catch and soccer with the youngest Roughrider. Last year at the JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Luc even worked out with all his older brothers.
The ‘Riders have won 141 games so far during Luc’s lifetime.
Coach Lallemand took a rare interview between games of a doubleheader and handled it with his usual professionalism.
“Somebody may have mentioned it to me that I was close,” he said. “Every year I have to fill out stuff before the season starts and say how many wins or the overall record at your school. That’s about the only reason I had a clue about it, but you keep tabs on it at the first of the year because you’re filling out stuff. I didn’t realize that we were there already until about the fourth inning, then I saw some people out there in the stands and I was like, ‘Maybe there’s something going on here that I’m not privy to.’
“It’s a tribute to all the players that have played here and it’s great to have the fan support. It’s what it represents and the longevity we’ve had here and the sustained success that we’ve had here at Crowder. I think I’m more proud of that. We continue to roll teams out there to compete and hopefully compete at the national stage and compete for region titles and even further like we did last year.”
Lallemand became Crowder head coach in 2006 after being a Crowder assistant for three seasons.
In another interview after the second game, Lallemand said that he remembered victory No. 1.
“I do,” he said over frequent and powerful gusts of wind, “because I had bronchitis. It was at Fort Scott Community College. It was one of the coldest days on record that I can remember seems like. We won a 4-3 ballgame after getting swept here by Cowley County. It was a good one. A good group of kids that year and over all these years and all the kids who have played here, it’s special to think about all the wins and the kids who have contributed to all those.”