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Cowboys open conference play Friday night at Lamar

Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 8:29 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Two of the hottest baseball teams in the Southland Conference will find out where they stand this weekend as McNeese State travels to rival Lamar in the league-opening series for both teams.

The Cowboys (12-8) have won four of their last five, while the Cardinals (19-4) have been nearly unbeatable at Vincent-Beck Stadium. Lamar is 17-2 on its home turf.

“We’re going to have our hands full, but we plan on going in there and giving them a battle,” said McNeese coach Terry Burrows. “Hopefully we play like we’ve been playing this last week-and-a half and have a good weekend of baseball.”

There are seven Southland teams with records of .500 or better heading into conference play, leading Burrows to believe this will be one of the tighter conference races in recent memory.

“Everybody in this conference has a chance to be really good,” Burrows said. “The Southland never really gets the credit it deserves. But you look around at the teams that we’ve been playing, it’s going to be strong from top to bottom. It’ll be a dogfight every week. We’ve just got to keep our starters healthy.”

The Cowboys think they can be one of the teams in that mix.

McNeese has thrown five shutouts in its first 20 games, two shy of the single-season school record. Friday night starter Bryce Kingsley (3-2, 1.82 ERA) and Saturday starter Blake Ware (4-1, 2.48) have been a big part of McNeese’s nonconference success on the mound.

The Cowboys are looking for a steady hand in the Sunday starter role. Lefty Jason Gibson (1-0, 4.43) will get that chance this weekend after taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning of Tuesday’s win over Harvard.

“It was good to see him throw the way he did, because that was one of our question marks,” Burrows said. “They can throw five or six lefties (in their batting order). With that being said, we’ll get us a lefty out there and see how it goes.”

Lamar leads the conference with a .303 team batting average, while the Cowboys have raised theirs to .272 during their recent hot spell.

“The thing I’m most pleased with is, we started off struggling offensively and we’ve come around and had some good games,” Burrows said. “Guys are doing things I thought we’d do, like Jackson Gooch and Taylor Drake. Now we’ve got to start it all over again this weekend, because we’re going to face some good pitching.”

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