It’s been 41 years, but Ric Lessmann says, “I can remember every play!” Lessmann, the Meramec Community College coach, was referring to the 1974 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Baseball championship.
The Warriors won their final 15 games of the season, including 12 tournament games, en route to a 36-6 record – the best season in school history. Never before in the 17-year history of the NJCAA had a team captured the title without a loss.
Lessmann, the nation’s third-winningest junior college coach with 963-318 (.752) record in 26 seasons (1967-1993) at Meramec, was named the 1974 National Junior College Coach of the Year and Central District Coach of the Year.
Meramec defeated Miami Dade North 6-4 in the championship game in Grand Junction, Colo., after a slow start. “We got the first two guys on to start the game,” Lessman recalls. “Our No. 3 hitter Mike Murphy hits a rocket on the ground to the third baseman. He steps on third, throws to second and on to first for the triple play. That’s how the game started! I’ve never witnessed that play again.”
On the mound, the Warriors were led by John Whitaker (12-0, 1.73 ERA) and Murphy (8-2, 1.97 ERA), a second-team All-American who was voted the best pitcher of the tournament and later went on to reach Triple AAA with the St. Louis Cardinals. Meanwhile, Steve Viefhaus proved to be a reliable power threat, blasting four home runs in the tournament and capturing MVP honors. He set the school’s single-season home run record with 16 in 1974 and reached Triple AAA with the Detroit Tigers.
“These guys were tough, and a joy to coach,” Lessmann added.