Nicholls State baseball players made the right decision in 1970.
Given the choice, they opted for the NCAA Division II Tournament over the NAIA Tournament and nearly won a World Series. Under legendary head coach Ray Didier, the Colonels finished as runner-up, the closest the school has come to winning an NCAA championship.
Didier arrived in 1964 after leading LSU's baseball team to a 104-79 record from 1957-63, including the 1961 SEC championship. Nicholls had compiled an 86-36 record in its first four seasons, and Dider took the Colonels to the next level.
In 1969, they finished 25-13 overall and second in the Gulf States Conference. In 1970, Nicholls rolled to a 34-20 record including wins against LSU (twice), Mississippi and Southern Miss.
The Colonels lost their opening game in the Mideast Regional to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville but reeled off six consecutive victories to reach the College World Series final.
The springboard was a victory against Union (Tenn.) College to stave off elimination in the regional. Trailing 3-0 in the ninth and down to its last strike, Nicholls State rallied for a 4-3 victory. As the Houma (La.) Today reported in 2011, it shocked team bus driver "Big Sam" Levy.
"Big Sam left in the ninth to get the bus warmed up,” said Mike Davis, a sophomore on the team. "After we won, Big Sam comes back with the bus, and he cannot believe that we won the game. We are jumping up and down all excited, and he is wondering what is going on. He missed the greatest comeback I guess you will ever see."
The Colonels beat Illinois State and SIU-E twice to win the regional, setting the stage for the sports moment judged the greatest in school history.
They advanced to the CWS championship series with victories against Springfield (Mass.) College (3-1) and Southwest Missouri State (8-5), now Missouri State. The Colonels faced San Fernando Valley State, now Cal State-Northridge, in the best-of-three final.
The Colonels lost 9-5 and 2-1, but it remains the most memorable season in the school's baseball history. The team is in the school's hall of fame and the baseball stadium is named for Didier, who also served as athletic director.
“I think a lot of people today don't know the history of Nicholls athletics,” Davis said in 2011. “When we were inducted into the Nicholls Hall of Fame (in 2008), nobody knew about the team. Many people had forgotten. We were touched when we found out we were going into the Hall of Fame because we thought that we had been forgotten.”
• Nicholls State University Athletics Hall of Fame
Above: Nicholls State memorial for Ray Didier. (Courtesy Nicholls State University Archives)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: New Mexico State and New Orleans
• Tuesday: Nicholls and UNC Asheville
• Wednesday: UNC Greensboro and UNC Wilmington
• Thursday: North Dakota and Northeastern
• Friday: Northern Illinois and Northern Kentucky