First-year McNeese State baseball coach Justin Hill meets with his players during the first day of practice for the new season. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2014 12:59 PMThe differences are subtle, such as the stenciling on the front window of the McNeese State baseball complex listing the years the Cowboys have won Southland Conference titles or reached NCAA regionals.
The message being delivered is clear, though: it is possible to win at McNeese.
No matter how subliminal, that positive reinforcement is something McNeese’s players say they are taking to heart under rookie head coach Justin Hill. The Cowboys completed their first practice of the season on a crisp Saturday afternoon at Cowboy Diamond.
“It’s definitely a new attitude,” said senior outfielder Jackson Gooch. “There’s a (heck) of a work ethic on this team this year. We’ve got a lot of upperclassmen on this team, and I think we’re all in it for the same thing: make it as far as we can and make the most of these last years.”
The team has already been acquainted with Hill’s ways through fall practices.
“He’s really good connecting with guys,” Gooch said. “He’s got a lot of good relationships with each and every one of these guys. You can tell everybody’s reacting to his presence much better than we did last year. Everyone’s happy and excited.”
Gooch said the spirit of those fall workouts carried over.
“The pure competition carried over, for sure,” Gooch said. “Everyone’s fighting for spots.”
Regardless of the circumstances, a coaching change usually brings a renewed sense of competition to a team.
Players who felt pigeonholed under their previous coach tend to feel they have something to prove to the new guy. And, if things are executed properly, that puts the pressure on entrenched starters to show they are worthy of being in the lineup every day.
Hill said he gets a sense that is what he is seeing.
“You’re probably not going to see the same lineup Friday, Saturday, Sunday, because we’re going to have more than nine guys who deserve to play,” Hill said. “The hard part is finding ways for those guys to have roles, whether that be spot starts or late-inning defense.”
He said he’s particularly happy with the team’s conditioning on Day 1.
“The kids were in good shape, which tells me they worked over the break,” Hill said. “The biggest thing for us right now is reps. Like everyone else in the country, we’ve got three weeks to prepare.”
The Cowboys had their opening day of practice pushed back a day due to Friday’s winter weather, but in the long run they figure to have far more opportunities to get outside than season-opening opponent Chicago State.
McNeese hosts the Cougars in a three-game set beginning Feb. 14.