(Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 7:20 PM
KATY, Texas — One of the most memorable eras in the history of McNeese State athletics came to an end Friday with the Cowgirls’ 79-66 loss to Oral Roberts — maybe.
Even if the Cowgirls do earn an invitation to the WNIT or WBI postseason tournaments, there was a sense of finality in the air at the Merrell Center as twins Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett made their way back to the locker room after their last interview session at the Southland Conference basketball tournament.
The duo looked like the Siamese variety of twin, attached with arms slung over one another’s shoulder as they walked down the hall in lockstep. At times like this, it must be nice to have an equal.
In terms of their impact on the McNeese program, there is no equal.
“I don’t know if we can say it in words,” said Cowgirls head coach Brooks Donald Williams. “What they’ve meant to McNeese, the Lake Charles community, and Cowgirl basketball. It’s been unbelievable.”
Even in the disappointment of their semifinal loss to the Golden Eagles, the sisters were able to keep some perspective on the big picture.
“It’s been great playing in the Southland Conference. Everyone’s been great to us over here,” Caitlyn said. “We wanted to go out with a third championship, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
“I’d come back to McNeese 50 more times if I had the chance,” Ashlyn said. “Playing these great teams, meeting a lot of people and being with my teammates. Katy’s a great facility and the people treat us great. I loved it. I’ll miss it.”
Unfortunately, there was also the knowledge that their third consecutive title run was derailed by the results of the regular season as much as anything ORU did on Friday.
The difference on the scoreboard was determined by energy — something Oral Roberts had and McNeese did not in its third game in three days.
Those roles might have been reversed if not for a number of unfortunate losses that tripped up the Cowgirls at various points in the season.
There was the regular-season opener at Northwestern State, won by the Demons at the buzzer. An unfathomable loss at last-place Texas A&M-Corpus Christi that saw McNeese squander a four-point lead in the final 10 seconds. Close defeats on the last two Saturdays of the season against Central Arkansas and at Nicholls State.
If any one of those decisions went the other way, a much fresher version of the Cowgirls is facing Oral Roberts after playing just once. Any two of them and McNeese would be in ORU’s shoes in the pole position.
Such was the nature of the Southland this season, where there was little-to-no difference among the top five teams in the league. Tournament seeding became everything.
“We had our mess-ups in conference early and throughout,” Caitlyn said. “We just couldn’t finish. All that said, it’s been a great career.”
In the end, their careers were more about mastery than mess-ups. McNeese won twice as many Southland titles in their careers as it did in 30-plus years of existence before their arrival.
Even Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett was there to shake their hands when it was over, telling them they were two of the best the league has ever seen.
Indeed, their careers were the kind that many fans will only witness once in a lifetime — or in the case of the Baggetts, twice.
Even if there’s no encore, they won’t be soon forgotten.
• • •
Alex Hickey covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at email@example.com