McNeese State freshman Jamie Allred (15-3) will start for the Cowgirls tonight against LSU. (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 6:34 PMMcNeese State’s softball team wants to be considered one of the best around.
In order to do that, the Cowgirls are willing to measure themselves against the best.
Tonight they will get another chance.
For the second time this season the Cowgirls (32-10) will host a nationally ranked in-state rival. This time it’s the 11th-ranked Tigers from LSU who come to Cowgirl Diamond.
First pitch is set for 7 p.m.
“Beating LSU, there would be no greater taste than that,” said McNeese junior shortstop Katie Roux.
At 35-5, 11-4 in the Southeastern Conference, LSU owns a one game lead over Alabama in the Western Division and is a game behind Tennessee overall.
Yet it is the big school’s hold on the state’s fan base that makes it a special target for the Cowgirls.
“Everybody here bleeds purple and gold,” said McNeese head coach Mike Smith. “We are hoping to show those people that we can play pretty good softball too.”
For the McNeese players it is a bit more personal. A good portion of them grew up LSU fans, but won’t be tonight.
“This is a rivalry for us,” Roux said. “The girls from Louisiana really want to beat LSU, and the girls from Texas really, really want to beat them.”
The Cowgirls say they have a chance. At 13-3 in the Southland Conference they own a 1 1/2-game lead over second-place Northwestern State and the tiebreaker.
They have won six of their last seven games and 19 of 22, but this will be their biggest test since playing at UCLA in the opening week.
“McNeese State is always a tough opponent for us, without question, and played us three extremely hard-fought games last season,” said LSU head coach Beth Torina. “They’ve been playing well and are very well-coached. Their offense is good and balanced, and they have two solid pitchers. We know we’ll have to play our best game to be successful in Lake Charles.”
It will also likely be the season’s largest crowd, with fan loyalty split.
“This is great to host a team like LSU for our program,” Smith said. “We are hoping to get a lot of people out and that will give us a chance to showcase McNeese softball and the future or our program.”
For the Cowgirls, they look forward to playing in these types of games, especially after making a name for themselves by beating then-No. 1 Arizona State last year.
“Always want to play the big schools,” Roux said. “We have confidence we can play with them. Our focus is on us. We want to play the way we are capable of playing and the wins will come.
“We can’t worry about who the opponent is or where they are ranked.”
Those are words right out of the coach’s mouth.
“The only difference between LSU and McNeese is the colors and letters on the uniforms,” Smith said. “I tell them the ball is the same size for both teams, the bases are 60 feet apart and the fences are the same distance.
“We have to go through these types of situations in order to be ready for the next one. This is how we find out just where we stand as a team, by playing the best.”
The Cowgirls had a chance earlier in the year to make a statement but lost at home to then-No. 12 Louisiana-Lafayette on Feb. 20. A four-run first by ULL was too much to overcome, and seemed to show that the moment was too big for McNeese.
Now comes a second chance.
“We learned from that game that we have to be ready from the start,” Roux said. “It is up to us to play a good game. What we really want to do is play well, the way we can play from the start.”
The Tigers are led by Jacee Blades, who has a team-high .358 batting average. A.J. Andrews has a team-high 54 hits and Bianka Bell leads the team with 10 home runs.
Senior Rachele Fico leads the Tigers in the circle with a 1.91 ERA. Fico has 10 shutouts and 198 strikeouts in 172 1/3 innings pitched.
Freshman Emily Vincent leads McNeese with a .375 batting average, with nine home runs and 39 RBIs.
Freshman Jamie Allred (15-3) will start for the Cowgirls.