Brent Lavallee is in his third season as Head Coach of the LSU Shreveport Pilots. The Pilots won the Red River Athletic Conference regular season championship last season. Lavalee was named RRAC Coach of the Year in 2017.
Bob Broughton, courtesyrunner.com: You played four seasons at LSU Shreveport, and went on to become assistant coach and then head coach there. How did you get from North Delta, British Columbia to Shreveport?
Brent Lavallee, LSU Shreveport: Pretty much, I got lucky. It is not easy for a Canadian to get into a good American college program. A former LSUS player (Aaron McRae) was back in town getting ready to go to Spring training with the Detroit Tigers. He had played his Senior season at LSUS in 2003, leading them to a World Series appearance. He was back home training with our high school team and noticed I had some decent defensive skills and he made a call to the Head Coach at LSUS, Rocke Musgraves. Coach Rocke took his word and spoke with my high school coach, Ari Mellios - who had a reputation of making great catchers, and they gave me a little scholarship money and an opportunity to play as a Freshman, and the rest is history. I owe a lot to my parents, my high school coaches and to Aaron McRae and Coach Rocke Musgraves for giving me that opportunity. There was a lot of hard work on my behalf - I was a hockey player who played baseball in the Summer, but there was a much better chance to get an education playing baseball and I am glad I made that decision.
BB: The Pilots have usually had at least one Canadian on the roster, and this year, you have four of them. What is is about LSUS that attracts them?
BL: I think there are many things that attract Canadian student-athletes to LSUS. We have great weather and terrific facilities, especially compared to most Canadian high school programs. The cost of tuition is very affordable, even with the exchange rate on the Canadian dollar being pretty high. Also, the comfort level of having a Canadian on the coaching staff is a bit of an attraction to the families, just knowing that there is someone who knows what the international students are going through and what to do if something were to go wrong. A lot of it is networking. We don't get the chance to see many of the Canadians that end up here; we go off of recommendations from people and we trust them and hope that they know the talent level that we try to bring in. I find myself sometimes being harder on recruiting Canadians because I don't want to bring a kid 3,000 miles to sit the bench. We want them to be contributors, especially if they are coming from so far and paying that amount of money.
BB: LSUS is one of those schools that fields a competitive team every year, but so far this season, it looks like you've stepped it up a notch. (The Pilots are 15-1.) What has made the difference for you?
BL: There are a few major factors that are contributing to our current success. Firstly and most importantly it is the players and they have created a great amount of team chemistry. Plain and simple. I don't think that we've ever had poor team chemistry, but we sure have something special this season and I think that anyone who has been in or around our program these past couple seasons can sense that. This team legitimately enjoys coming to the ballpark and going to work every day. We don't have any team slogans or fancy signs made trying to force "culture" on them. I don't think we make the players "buy in" like some programs do. This is their program and they approach it in a mature manner. Our players just get after it, every day.
Secondly, we have some terrific talent and they are hungry to succeed, both individually and as a whole. We have some players that have been here since day one as Freshmen. Guys who may have been walk-ons that have worked extremely hard, learned the system and have waited their turn and are now seeing it all pay off. We have some underclassmen that are extremely talented and they are getting the chance to show that and they have raised the floor of our talent level. We have a bunch of top end JUCO and D-I transfers who have really raised our talent and our expectations. Watching these guys play is an absolute treat and a lot of the transfers did not get a full shot at their last schools for whatever reason, and I think that they are getting that here and making the most of it. We have a great coaching staff with a ton of experience and high expectations of ourselves individually and as a staff. We have a hitting coach/recruiting coordinator, Mitch Huckabay. that won't be at our level for very long and professional organizations are missing out on hiring him daily. Our pitching coach, Cade Bowen, is an alumni of LSUS and is coming off of an NCAA D-III World Series Championship at UT Tyler last season. We have a graduate assistant (Ryan Pouwells) and a student assistant (Matt King) that are also both alumni of our program and they both keep our operation running smoothly while being groomed for their first paid positions in this game.
Personally, I think that I have learned from every success and every mistake I have made as a Head Coach and used my failures as a stepping stone to improve. I allow our coaches to do their jobs and I feel like that is a huge factor to our success. Lastly, we have an amazing administration team. All success starts from the top. From our Chancellor, to our Athletic Director (Lucas Morgan), to our Operations Director (James Dicken) to our athletic training staff and eventually to the coaching staff and down to the players. We are given the ability and autonomy to do our jobs, and I think that is another big factor why our players are being more successful than in the past.
BB: Taking a look at this year's stats, the guys leading the team in hitting are:
IF Payton Robinson (Orange, TX; .500 with 3 home runs, 20 RBI)
BL: A true Junior ho played his first two years at Lamar University. Payton is a quick twitch athlete who could play any position on the field. He did not get a great opportunity at his last school and once we gave him consistent playing time and eliminated the fear of failure, he has flourished. He was a shortstop at Lamar but he is an unbelievable third baseman. He runs well, has a big time arm, and the glove work to play any position on the field. He has some sneaky pop as well. He has been a great pickup for us.
BB: 1B Jordan Trahan (Dayton, TX; .395, 12 RBI)
BL: A true Senior who won back to back national championships at Tyler Junior College. Jordan is one of the nicest kids I have ever coached and he is a huge part of our program. He will be sorely missed next season. He hits in the middle of the lineup and last year led our team and conference in home runs and RBI (I believe). He splits time at first base and DH. What makes me the most proud about Jordan is that he has raised his GPA every semester he has been here and he has pulled back to back 3.0 GPA semesters.
BB: C/OF Beaux Guilbeau (Carthage, TX; .391, 15 RBI)
BL: A sixth year Senior who I have known personally since he was 13 years old. It has been a long road for him but he has worked incredibly hard and is a two time, first team All-Conference catcher who looks like he'll repeat for the third time. Beaux plays left field for us when he doesn't catch. He played every game of the season last year, and his Iron Man streak reaches back to the 2017 season. Hopefully he plays in every game this year and continues to leave his mark on our program.
BB: IF Austin McNicholas (Austin, TX; .373, 3 home runs, 17 RBI)
BL: A Sophomore who spent his first year at the University of Texas. Much like Payton Robinson, Austin was just needing a place where he could get a chance to be who he is and play his game. He is the best player I have ever seen, every day. No matter what the setting - practice, exhibition, season, training, he is always amazing me at how he handles himself and the level of talent that he possesses. He truly makes the entire team and program better.
BB: Now, let's talk about pitchers. RHP Stachys McLoud (Overland Park, KS; 5 appearances, 3 hits, zero earned runs)
BL: Atrue Senior who transferred from Highland CC in Kansas. He is one of the best side-arm pitchers I have ever seen. He is a fierce competitor and I am unsure of how he didn't get recruited by bigger schools. He will be sorely missed next year.
BB: RHP David Jones (3-0, 1.13 ERA, 21 strikeouts in 16 innings pitched)
BL: From Denham Springs, LA, and Live Oak HS. David has been lights out for us. He is a true Junior who has waited his turn and pitched in some big games for us. He is a four pitch guy whose velocity is still improving. He is a huge part to our program and we are thrilled that he is having the successes that he is.
BB: RHP Andrew Lowe (Bossier City, LA; 2-0, 2.37 ERA, 18 strikeouts)
BL: A transfer from Ole Miss and LSU Eunice. He was an Academic All-SEC at Ole Miss and he won a JUCO World Series Championship at LSUE last year. He is a big part to our starting rotation and we enjoy having him and enjoy seeing him flourish in his opportunity.
BB: Anyone else that you expect to make a big contribution this year that hasn't been mentioned so far?
BL: Ryne Ray (Shreveport, transfer from Panola College) and Antonio Culotta (Lafayette, LA, transfer from Coffeyville CC) are both about to be back from some eligibility issues and I expect them both to make this team a lot better and a lot deeper. Ryne Ray might be one of the top prospects in NAIA baseball and Antonio Culotta is a game changer. They both play multiple positions and will incredibly improve our depth.
There are so many more players than the few that are listed that are huge contributors to our success. Even the guys whose numbers don't jump off the page are crucial to this team. Yes, there are some guys with better numbers than others at the moment - but there is no way for me to list just a couple. The talent and depth on this roster is as good as I've ever seen. Our defense is better than it has been in a long time. The offense is absolutely scary - and they love to be challenged. Athleticism is better than it has been. Our pitching staff has a ton of experience on it and our bullpen is the best we've ever had. We do not have enough innings to play for the amount of quality arms that we have. If you look at our stats as of today we have nine players with over 10 RBI, we have hit 20 home runs in 16 games while playing in one of the biggest ballparks in America. Our pitching staff currently leads NAIA in strikeouts. We are successful stealing bases within our game plan, and we still have a lot of room to improve and a lot of things that we don't do well yet.
BB: What is LSU Shreveport known for, and what are its academic strengths?
BL: LSUS has a lot of really great undergraduate programs. The most popular are our business degrees (Marketing, Business Administration, Management, Leadership), community health (Physical Education, Strength and Conditioning, Pre-Physical Therapy, Pre-Occupational Therapy) and quite a few liberal arts degrees (Criminal Justice, Sociology, English, etc.) We have so many great programs that our students can choose from.
BB: When you're talking to potential recruits, what do you say to them to convince them to go to LSU Shreveport?
BL: There are a lot of selling points about LSUS that we let recruits know about. We make sure that our recruits know a lot about the program before they make their decision. The cost of tuition is relatively low, our facilities are improving every year ($300,000 in facility upgrades to baseball in the past 3 seasons, with a new locker room, coaches' office, VIP lounge and weight room in the works right now), the weather is great, our ballpark is beautiful, we have put plenty of players into professional baseball, we have a full-time athletic training staff. Shreveport is a big city with 200,000 people and plenty to do outside of baseball. Our games are all live streamed with audio so their families can watch them play.
One of the most important part of recruiting is that we are very progressive in our training methods and extremely data-driven. We continue to push the envelope in player development, which is not as common as you would think at our level of college baseball. We have hired a data analyst for next year which will continue to aid in our efforts to develop our players better. We lift heavy, swing hard, train to hit velocity. Our pitchers train their arms and bodies hard; if a player does not want to work hard and develop, our program is not for them and I think that we do a good job of telling potential recruits that. If our players are not improving and developing, then they aren't going to last long.
LSU Shreveport Pilots official site