It’s with a fair degree of certainty that we can mark March 24, 1976, as the day of arguably the greatest hitting performance in college baseball history.
Let’s set the scene. Louisville is hosting Western Kentucky for a double-header. In the first game, the Hilltoppers squeak by the host team, 12-11, for just their eighth win in 17 games on the season. It was Louisville’s fifth loss in a row.
The night before the game, trying to break the slump, Louisville catcher/first baseman and designated hitter Jim LaFountain studied Red Sox great Ted Williams’ “The Art of Hitting.”
Then, in the first inning of the second game, with a runner on base, LaFountain crushed a ball over the fence for a two-run homer.
It would be his worst at bat of the game.
In the second, LaFountain cleared the bases with a grand slam. In the third, he came to the plate twice. First at bat? Grand slam. Second? Take a wild guess. Yep. Grand slam.
You read that correctly. Three grand slams in a game. Two in the same inning.
Both of those are still records in college baseball. Five other players have tied LaFountain’s record of two grand slams in an inning (a feat that hadn’t been achieved before 1976), yet no one but the Louisville slugger has managed three in a game.
The 14 runs batted in broke a record that had stood for nine years at 12. The new record stood for 23 years until Florida State’s Marshall McDougall drove in 16 against Maryland in 1999.
Only two players have ever managed to hit more than four home runs in a game.
The 4 HR for Brendan McKay equals the school record set by Jim LaFountain on April 24, 1976 against Western Kentucky. #goodatbaseball
— Louisville Baseball (@UofLBaseball) April 25, 2017
Oh, one more thing we should mention about LaFountain’s record-shattering performance: It was in just five innings.
According to Louisville’s media guide, Western Kentucky asked Louisville coach Jim Zerilla to mercifully end the game after the Cardinals took a 26-4 lead in the fifth. It was probably the right call, but imagining what LaFountain could have done to those poor records with three more at bats (he was averaging 0.8 at bats per inning that game) is tantalizing.
Louisville would go on to win nine of its next 13 games, averaging 9.8 runs per game during the stretch.
LaFountain racked up 84 RBI on the season, so other than the one 14-RBI outing, he averaged 1.35 per game. But how many did he read “The Art of Hitting” before?