Dane Dixon tried to be calculated in his approach.
When you’ve never experienced anything like the elation of celebrating a team championship, maneuvering through a mass of jubilant humanity can be a tricky proposition.
Within an instant Dixon, a graduate of Walker High, found himself numb from head to toe when LSU-Eunice teammate Slate Fuller delivered a walk-off, two-run homer in the 9th inning for a 5-3 victory over Parkland College and the NJCAA Division II national championship.
It was the school’s sixth national crown but first such scenario for Dixon, a redshirt freshman pitcher, to try and find his way onto the team’s dogpile not long after Fuller crossed home plate.
Dixon tried to play it safe, picking a side of the growing tower of celebration.
“If you’re on the bottom, then you’ll have more people jump on you,” Dixon said. “It’s really indescribable. We practiced very hard, worked hard over the fall and it translated into the spring. “Everybody was confident going into regionals, very confident going into the World Series. We trusted the process and we felt like we deserved to win.”
LSU-Eunice, which entered the postseason ranked No. 1, finished with a sparkling 59-6 record after sweeping Parkland College by scores of 9-5 and 5-3.
How the Bengals got there had a lot to do with Dixon’s career-best outing in the pivotal game to reach the World Series’ championship series.
After evolving during the season from reliever to starter, Dixon was informed by LSU-Eunice coach Jeff Willis a couple of days in advance of the biggest start of his career.
“I try to get in a zone in the bullpen,” Dixon said. “I just stare at the guy’s chest and throw it. I wasn’t trying to throw harder. I felt fine. No problems.”
Dixon got a taste of postseason play a couple of weeks earlier with a no- decision during the Region 23 tournament against Mississippi Gulf Coast. The right-hander had allowed four runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out three.
With LSU-Eunice having plowed its way through its World Series competition in Enid, Okla. – outscoring its first two opponents 19-6 - the Bengals were poised for a return to the championship series and needed a win over local favorite, Northern Oklahoma College-Enid.
They only needed one victory and Dixon delivered in a big way.
“I just tried to be very consistent,” Dixon said of his approach to the postseason. “I tried to challenge hitters with good pitches. The atmosphere at the ballpark for the regional and World Series was unreal. I thought I won the crowd over. It was fun.”
He certainly won over his teammates.
For the first time in his brief career, Dixon was able to extend to seven innings, allowing an unearned run on three hits, striking out six and walking none.
How dominant was Dixon? After yielding a first-inning run, the 6-foot-5, 177-pounder retired the next 15 batters he faced over the next six innings.
LSU-Eunice struck for four runs in the 2nd and successfully padded its lead en route to a 10-2 victory.
“When coach said I was on the bump, I was more nervous than the regional,” Dixon said. “I made the game bigger than what it was. To pick up the ball in the World Series, I got a little roughed up in the first inning and I just had to calm my nerves and settle down. I had to keep my team in the game, make competitive pitches.
“I knew we had one of the best hitting teams in the country,” Dixon said. “They’re all studs. If I could compete with them in the fall and challenge them, that way I could take on anybody. That pretty much gave me extra motivation against any team I faced.”
Dixon was a first-team All-District pitcher out of Walker without many college options in front of him. He attended a showcase at LSU-E and was asked, along with his twin brother and two teammates, to remain afterward to tour the campus and athletic facilities.
Dixon committed to the Bengals that evening.
“I didn’t get looked at by a lot of schools,” Dixon said.
Following a fall of where open competition was the byword for mound spots, Dixon was begrudgingly asked to redshirt.
“I’m not going to lie, but it sucked,” he said. “You really have to find your character. I really wanted to come back and prove myself. I felt I had to prove to everybody that I deserved to be there.
“I wasn’t at my full potential and they had a bunch of guys way ahead of me, throwing a lot harder and way more consistent,” he continued. “The redshirt was more like a wakening; like this is what I had to do.”
Dixon watched LSU-Eunice fail to get out of Region 23 play. He went to the Hamptons (N.Y.) League, where he pitched for the West Hampton Aviators.
In 2018, Dixon didn't accrue many innings as a reliever before working his way into a starter’s role, something he did for the last five weeks of the season. He wound up with a 5-1 record, 2.01 ERA with 34 strikeouts and just 6 walks in 40 innings.
“Dane has worked extremely hard to get where he is at and it’s always great to see when a player has the right attitude and work ethic success,” Willis said. “Dane is a testament to good things happen to good people who work hard.”
Dixon has visions of an increased workload next season but plans to carry a greater leadership role regardless of his status as a starter or reliever in hopes of helping LSU-Eunice win a national championship, setting the stage for another memorable postgame celebration.
“I always dreamed as a little kid of seeing people dogpile in the professional World Series,” Dixon said. “It was really cool that I got to experience that.”