The McNeese baseball team will take to Cowboy Diamond for its last home weekend series for the next two weeks as the Valparaiso Crusaders come to town for a three-game stand beginning Friday at 6 p.m. (Photo courtesy of McNeese State University Athletics)
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 09, 2014 5:24 PMThere hasn’t been a game like this at Cowboy Diamond since — well, there’s never been a game like this at Cowboy Diamond.
Top-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette (30-4) will pay its annual visit to Lake Charles, but this marks the first time ever that the Cowboys will host a No. 1 team in the college baseball polls.
“There’s a reason they’re the No. 1 team in the country,” said McNeese coach Justin Hill. “It’s an important game for us, our fans and our community, no doubt about it. But we’re not concerned with what they’re doing, we’re more focused on us.”
As with any midweek game, the object is to win, but not at the expense of the upcoming weekend series. The Cowboys (19-11) are atop the Southland Conference standings and have a key series coming up against second-place Northwestern State.
McNeese will look for a quality start from Michael Desabrais (0-1, 4.50 ERA) and try not to tax the bullpen.
“It will be the same approach we had last week at LSU and that we will next week at Tulane,” Hill said. “What’s unique about these midweeks is we only have one day before conference. So you’ve got some guys in the bullpen you want to use, but you don’t want to stretch them out because you want to make sure they’re ready. Michael gave us a good start at LSU (six innings), and we hope to get that again.”
Few teams have experienced quality starts or untaxed bullpens against ULL this season.
The Ragin’ Cajuns are bludgeoning opposing pitchers with a .326 team average. Led by Jace Conrad (.380), the Cajuns have seven hitters in their starting nine with batting averages better than .320.
Outfielder Caleb Adams is putting up stats difficult to attain in video games, reaching base exactly half of the times he has stepped into the batter’s box and carrying an on-base plus slugging total of 1.248. Typically .900 is considered a good OPS number.
Adams is merely one of six Cajuns exceeding that benchmark.
“That’s probably as good an offense as you can get,” Hill said. “The bottom line is we have to make pitches, and when we make pitches we have to make the plays on defense. You have to minimize the freebies. We have to play a clean baseball game.”
The Cajuns can also pitch. The staff carries a team ERA of 2.97. Freshman left-hander Connor Toups (1-0, 1.35) will make his first career start.
McNeese officials expect a near-capacity crowd, and the ancient animosities of McNeese fans telling ULL fans to go to an exceedingly hot place and Cajun fans telling Cowboy fans what to do to themselves seem likely to spring up.
But Hill needs his team focused on what is going on between the lines even if few of them have been exposed to such an atmosphere at their own ballpark.
“I certainly understand what the rivalry means to our fan base. We don’t want our kids to get wrapped up in it,” Hill said. “They might not have even been born when they were regularly playing in football. They understand it’s a rivalry and also what (the Cajuns) represent being the No. 1 team in the country.
“It’s like opening day. It’s not a day you have to give them a speech. You have to kind of settle them down.”