McNeese State pitcher Grant Ashcraft throws in an intrasquad game Jan. 28. (Rick Hickman / The American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, March 20, 2017 5:58 PM
Back in January when he made his intrasquad debut at Joe Miller Ballpark, Grant Ashcraft said he took up baseball longing to feel the competitive desire that left him while backing up James Tabary during football season.
Tuesday affords the 6-foot-6 right-hander that exact scenario.
Ashcraft will make his first collegiate start Tuesday at Turchin Stadium when McNeese State meets Tulane at 6:30 p.m., the culmination of an extraordinary five-month journey that began when the Cowboys backup quarterback approached baseball coach Justin Hill about returning to a sport he hadn’t played in five years.
“Didn’t know what to expect and I say that with him and everybody,” Hill said Monday. “It’s been getting better. He’s been commanding the ball a lot better, doing a lot better job controlling the running game and has gotten a lot more consistent with his delivery. He’s done a good job between his appearances of his daily throwing.”
Ashcraft’s thrown 8 2 / 3 innings this season — his first since his days at Atascocita High School — yielding nine hits and three earned runs while striking out five. In recent appearances he’s shown more confidence in his curveball while mixing in a two-seam fastball with noticeable arm-side run.
His biggest hurdle, Hill says, has been rounding into baseball shape. The senior “hit a wall” following two outings in four days last week — 2 1 / 3 combined innings against Central Arkansas and Houston — and was rested this weekend against Stephen F. Austin to prepare him for this start.
“We’ll monitor him, see how it goes,” Hill said. “I don’t expect him to go out and throw a complete game or six, seven innings but I think it’s going to be how he gets through the innings, how pressure packed are the pitches, we’ll kind of see how it goes.”
Gallier named Southland Hitter of the Week
Following a four-game stretch where he went 8-for-16 with three home runs and five RBI, Cowboys cleanup hitter Matt Gallier was named Southland Hitter of the Week on Monday.
Gallier, who is slugging .720 and has a 1.231 on-base plus slugging percentage, has doubled his home run total from last season and leads the conference with a .427 batting average.
“He’s getting in those situations where guys ahead of him are getting on base and he’s getting pitched tough, but his at-bats have been really good,” Hill said. “ He’s taking his walks when he gets them and he’s got some protection behind him with Joe (Provenzano). He’s one of the leaders of our team both on and off the field.”
Hill tinkered with his batting order on Sunday, placing Mitchell Rogers in the two-hole and Dustin Duhon in the nine spot. Duhon, the team’s starting catcher, had been the Cowboys’ everyday two-hole hitter.
Part of the switch came from some Stephen F. Austin gamesmanship. The Lumberjacks scratched a left-handed starter an hour before Sunday’s 11-1 win and replaced him with a right-hander, forcing Hill to reshuffle his lineup moments before batting practice.
Still, it gave Hill a chance to take a look. Rogers went 0-for-3 and scored two runs on Sunday and Duhon went 1-for-3 with an RBI.