The McNeese State softball team defeated LSU at Tiger Park during their 2014 season (Rick Hickman / American Press Archives)
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 2:28 PM
In the end it just didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter that McNeese State’s softball team beat LSU.
It didn’t matter that the Cowgirls traveled throughout the land searching to play anybody they could on their field.
It didn’t matter that they played late in the season at Baylor, or beat the overall No. 2 seed Alabama.
It didn’t matter that they won seven games against teams that made the NCAA tournament, or beat programs in the top 25 five times.
It didn’t matter that they set a school record for 40 wins, or have 78 wins in the last two years.
It didn’t even matter that they ran away with the Southland Conference regular season championship, winning by 4 1/2 games.
None of that mattered.
In the end, the only thing that mattered to the NCAA softball selection committee is that the Cowgirls didn’t win the Southland tournament.
To that group of non-thinkers, four days of rain can wash away a season of hard work.
It was head coach Mike Smith’s biggest fear and it came true.
“It is frustrating,” Smith said.
Maybe it is more than just the tournament, which the Cowgirls lost. It might be the fact they play in the Southland Conference.
Either way, the only thing that really matters now is that the Cowgirls will be sitting home when the NCAA tournament opens up this weekend at 16 regional sites around the country.
Ironically, it is the team that would travel anywhere to play anybody that has no place to go and no one to play.
“I don’t know what else to say,” Smith said. “I’m surprised we didn’t get in and frustrated.”
Forty wins and a conference regular season crown are nice, but they don’t earn you an invitation to the big dance.
“We are a one-bid league,” Smith said.
The Cowgirls, for whatever reason, were not the best team in the Southland on the only weekend it really does matter.
Losing twice in two days proves that.
Unfortunately for the team that has come so far in the last three years under Smith, the Cowgirls are still a product of their environment. And their environment just happens to be the Southland Conference.
“Our league did not help us,” said Smith.
In fact, it killed them.
The conference ranks 20th in RPI and only McNeese is in the top 100, entering the SLC tourney at No. 39.
Like it, hate it or want to leave, it doesn’t really matter. McNeese’s softball team is stuck with the Southland.
If you think location matters only in real estate just look at how important it is in the eyes of the NCAA.
To that group the Southland Conference is small potatoes.
And if you think this is just an image problem in softball, think again.
During the NFL’s 3-day draft party not one player from the conference was selected by any of the 32 teams. No one during a draft that saw three taken from the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association, a Division II league.
But that is another story for another time. This is about softball.
The truth is, McNeese State can do nothing more to prove itself worthy short of winning the SLC tournament. That’s putting a lot of chips in one basket.
The Cowgirls don’t even get the bounce of hosting the tournament when they win the league.
What is disheartening is Smith did what he was told to do by the very group that kept him out this year.
The NCAA has told mid-majors to go out and play bigger schools and prove you belong. The Cowgirls did just that.
“I have done everything they asked me to do,” Smith said. “I stuck to my guns, played the people I’m supposed to play and I felt we didn’t get rewarded.”
In fact, they got shafted.
“I don’t know what else we can do,” Smith added. “We controlled what we could control.”
Not quite. Apparently the Cowgirls lost too many conference games, killing their numbers in a league that gets no respect.
“We did not win enough of the games we were supposed to win,” said Smith. “I know what we have to do, that’s win the conference tournament.”
Apparently that’s all that matters.
McNeese didn’t even get a bounce from having the ninth-toughest nonconference schedule in the nation.
In the end they were treated no better than Lamar or Nicholls State. It makes you wonder if it was all worth it in the end.
Maybe a few easier games could have improved the season win total to 45, but I doubt if even that would have helped in the end.
When all was said and done, the Cowgirls were still officially the second team out of the Southland Conference, one trying to earn an at-large bid.
To the NCAA that’s just not good enough.
It makes you believe nothing the Cowgirls do, or nobody they play and beat will help raise their profile.
None of that seems to matter.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org