McNeese baseball coach Justin Hill encourages his team at the mound. (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, April 03, 2014 5:00 PM
BATON ROUGE — Justin Hill took his team on a field trip last night.
He showed them where the haves of college baseball reside and where he used to call home.
Along the way the Cowboys saw the bright scoreboard and a beautifully groomed ballpark that had the look and feel of the big show.
There was that smell of hot dogs in the air and what seemed like enough national championship flags blowing out front to cover the infield of Cowboy Diamond.
They even have a pitch clock.
There was also a lesson to be learned: Don’t play with Tigers until you are ready.
Unable to finish off LSU, McNeese only seemed to first wake these Tigers and then make them angry.
Wednesday night’s 10-3 loss at Alex Box Stadium showed the promise of what could be and the reality of what is.
The haves still have a lot more than the have-nots.
But for half the game it sure was fun.
Through the first 51⁄2 innings McNeese hardly looked overmatched or out of its element.
In fact, the Cowboys had eight hits before LSU picked up its second. A 3-2 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth had McNeese faithful dreaming of an upset.
None of that matters to Hill. He’s not about moral victories.
“I don’t see where they have those in the standings,” McNeese’s first-year head coach said.
To him this was the big fish that got away. It may have been a bit personal, considering he played at LSU.
“They didn’t get anything going until we gave them something,” Hill said, referring to twice watching McNeese pitchers walk the No. 9 hitter and seeing him score later.
“We did a lot of good things, but we also did some things that got us beat,” he said.
More than anything else, that is what Hill has done for the Cowboys. He has raised the standard of expectations.
That is not to bash the past but rather praise the present.
Hill has made baseball fun with the expectation of being all business when it’s time is right.
“I don’t worry about what they did, I worry about what we are doing,” Hill said when asked about LSU. “We showed what we are capable of doing.
“I want this to bother them (losing). It should bother them.”
Sure this is just a midweek game, meaningless in the scheme of things. Both clubs have bigger games down the rode, but still this one had purpose for the Cowboys.
They wanted to show they belonged, even if LSU was struggling throughout a four-game losing streak and looks nothing like a national championship contender.
Remember, most of these trips to LSU for Cowboys teams end the same.
More than a few teams from Lake Charles, in fact the rest of the state, come to Baton Rouge with the look of a farmer making his first trip to the big city.
Eyes wide open, sometimes shaking in their own cleats.
The big brother Tigers pat them on the head, hand over a check and wave goodbye, dismissing the moment as something they have to get through.
For them it is a necessary evil. It’s Thanksgiving and they have to spend time with relatives they see just once a year, know little about and care even less.
These new Cowboys wanted to introduce themselves. That they did.
In Hill’s spring McNeese has found a new rhythm to its game, a confident swagger to its walk. The 16-11 record tells only part of the story.
“He has a way of doing things and we have all just bought into it,” said senior outfield Jackson Gooch.
That’s why light-hitting catcher Cameron Toole was able to keep focused and line an RBI single to center in the second despite being down in the count, 0-2.
That’s why Lucas Quary could blast a solo home run in the top of the fourth just moments after LSU’s Sean McMullen hit a two-run shot to tie the score at 2 in the bottom of the third.
The Cowboys lost this game when the bullpen imploded and the Tiger bats finally roared.
It was how this was predicted to end.
It’s just good to see that this group isn’t satisfied with that any more.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at email@example.com