Lucas Quary leads Cowboys with five home runs. (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, April 11, 2014 2:11 PMExpected to finish this season in the Southland Conference outhouse, McNeese and Northwestern State are heading into this weekend’s series at Cowboy Diamond with their eyes on the penthouse.
The Cowboys (19-11, 9-3 SLC) were picked to finish 10th in the league by conference coaches, but head into their fifth conference series alone in first place.
Sitting one game back are the Demons (19-13, 8-4), who were picked to finish 10th by conference sports information directors in their preseason poll.
Both teams come in having won all four of their conference series.
McNeese hasn’t won four consecutive series since 2007, and is trying for its fifth straight for the first time since ’06. Northwestern didn’t win a conference series all of last season.
So, exactly who saw this one coming?
McNeese coach Justin Hill, at least, isn’t surprised by the success of either squad.
“I’ve known Coach (Lane) Burroughs a long time,” Hill said. “He didn’t inherit quite the same situation I did when he came in last year. They kind of cleaned house. It doesn’t surprise me he made it happen a little sooner than outsiders would have expected. You knew with the hard work he and his staff do, they would be there eventually. They just happen to be there now.”
So are the Cowboys, who are not accustomed to the role of front-runner.
“Having a target on your back, that’s not something our kids have had a chance to prepare for,” Hill said. “We haven’t talked about it because we’ve been the hunter for a long time. Our kids are ready for the challenge, though. They’ve put in a lot of dedication. I don’t think it surprises them, where we are at at this point in time.”
McNeese has gotten the better of Northwestern this season, though that was in a pair of nonconference games in early March.
The Demons have turned a corner since then. Northwestern is 7-2 in the past two weeks, including a series win at conference preseason-favorite Sam Houston State.
To stop that hot streak, the Cowboys know they will have to finish games stronger than they have in recent midweek losses to nationally ranked foes LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette. McNeese led both teams before things went by the wayside in the later innings.
Even though there are no LSUs or ULLs in the Southland, it’s a habit McNeese has to break if it is to be a contender.
“We now know we can play with anybody,” said Cowboys third baseman Matt Gallier. “But we know we have a target on our back now (being in first place). We’re going to have to keep throwing punches, because everyone is going to give us their best.”