Last Modified: Thursday, February 21, 2013 10:59 AM
Little things do mean a lot.
That is not always an easy lesson to learn.
Wednesday night the McNeese State softball team was hoping to find out a thing or two about where it was in the rebuilding process.
What the Cowgirls learned is that victory comes in the details, the little things.
Serving as McNeese’s teacher was the 12th-ranked team in the nation, Louisiana-Lafayette.
Making the Cowgirls pay for their early mistakes, the Ragin’’ Cajuns knocked the chill off their bats and beat McNeese 5-1 before a crowd that had hoped for more.
At least half the crowd, as the stands were split about down the middle between red and blue. That’s pretty good considering ULL has been a power for some time and McNeese is still trying to make a name for itself.
Cowgirls head coach Mike Smith called it a “learning experience.”
What he learned was a bit mixed.
No question about it, the Ragin’ Cajuns were the better team last night and the better program. That was a given coming into the game.
But what the Cowgirls learned is the little things lead to bigger and better things. Making those little things happen is tougher to do.
Two long home runs highlighted the Cajuns’ four-run first and set the stage for the game’s outcome. They came off McNeese starter Bianca Lilly, who lasted just five batters.
“She got to the ball up and they took advantage,” said Smith. “That’s what good teams do.”
McNeese wants to be one of those good teams. Yet, when the Cowgirls had their chances Wednesday, they failed where the Cajuns flourished.
“That’s the difference with teams in the top 25,” Smith said. “They make you pay.”
That was the game right there. Four runs in five batters. It took McNeese, which must use small ball to score, right out of its game.
Good teams dictate play, others play to catch up. The Cajuns are a good team, winners of eight of nine.
If the top of the first didn’t set the table the bottom sure did.
McNeese got runners on first and third with nobody out. However, a pair of strikeouts forced the Cowgirls to settle for just one run.
That was really the difference. Given its one chance in the game to score the Cajuns plated four. They picked up another run later.
Given three chances to score McNeese managed to push over but one.
“Making plays and getting key hits is what wins close games,” Smith said.
After those first five batters McNeese played not only played even but actually may have even gotten a leg up on Lafayette.
Two sparkling throws from the outfield highlighted the Cowgirls defense. Two errors showed there is still work to be done.
One of those throws went to home plate on a perfect line from Lauren Langner in left. Catcher Ashley Modzelewski made even a better play with the tag.
That is a little thing which might get lost in the scorecard but in the future that could mean a lot.
Then there was the pitching of freshman Jamie Allred, who came in after Shellie Landry’s three-run gave the Cajuns a 4-0 lead early and held Lafayette’s big bats at bay.
She allowed one run on seven hits while striking out 10. That was against a team that came into the night scoring at a better-than nine-run a game pace.
“At times we played well but we have to play well all the time,” Smith said.
That is true when the Cowgirls play the good teams. They have proven in Smith’s two years that they can compete with the nation’s elite, knocking off a their share of ranked teams, including a No. 1 club last year. But it is winning these games on a consistent basis that will show that McNeese is ready for prime time.
Wednesday night, when one of the nation’s best came calling, the Cowgirls took too long to answer the bell.
They lost this game early and the lost it because of the little things.
Lafayette did enough of those to win. McNeese did not.
We will see if it was a lesson learned.
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Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org