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Ricky Ramirez, Jr. runs out of the batters box in Sunday's 11-1 win against Stephen F. Austin (Dennis Babineaux / Special to The American Press).

Ricky Ramirez, Jr. runs out of the batters box in Sunday's 11-1 win against Stephen F. Austin (Dennis Babineaux / Special to The American Press).

McNeese remains 'humbled' during torrid 15-5 start

Last Modified: Monday, March 20, 2017 6:08 PM

By Chandler Rome / The American Press

Justin Hill labels people two ways.

“Those that are humble,” the fourth-year McNeese State baseball coach says, “and those about to be humbled.”

A four-game series in Tuscon, Arizona notwithstanding, Hill’s team is humbling any opponent it faces. It’s won 11 of its last 12 games — the lone loss in that stretch was a one-run game at a top-20 Houston club — and off to the program’s best Southland Conference start in its history.

Sunday’s 11-1, shellacking of Stephen F. Austin, halted after seven innings due to the Southland’s getaway day mercy rule, put the Cowboys at 6-0 — just nine wins away from its entire conference win total last season.

A team buoyed by veterans in the middle of the batting order is bookended by junior college transfers Robbie Podorsky at the top and Mitchell Rogers at the bottom. Another junior college transfer, Rhett Deaton, is the team’s most reliable rotation arm across the first 20 games.

Used sparingly last year, sophomore twins Grant and Aidan Anderson intertwine as stalwart setup men or the team’s first choice when an inning begins to go awry.

Cowboys quarterback-turned-reliever Grant Ashcraft, playing competitive baseball for the first time in at least five years, throws meaningful innings from that bullpen and will start Tuesday’s midweek game at Tulane.

“This is their first go-round on this,” senior three-hole hitter Ricky Ramirez, Jr. said of his teammates new to the program, “and, it’s a long season. There’s going to be times when things don’t go well for us, but that’s where the older guys’ leadership needs to make sure everyone stays focused and chases that goal we have of getting better every day.”

Ramirez, Matt Gallier and Joe Provenzano, the three upperclassmen hitting 3-4-5 in the order, can lend proper rationalization to this torrid start. The trio has been humbled, as their coach terms it. Take last season’s seven-game losing streak in early April as a prime example.

“We’ve got enough guys who have been through some tough times,” Hill said following Sunday’s win. “They know how fragile that those things are … I’ll always bring it up. Win, lose or draw, I’m always going to bring something up to them.”

The record speaks for itself, but Hill still maintains this team has not played to its maximum capabilities. Thirteen walks in 25 innings from its pitching staff this weekend is unsightly.

But McNeese’s defense, an inconsistent. .951 fielding percentage unit throughout the previous 17 games, committed only two errors in those 25 innings, helping to offset the free passes.

And, inside the dugout, meshing is apparent. Take Podorsky, for example. Stephen F. Austin decided to jam the 5-foot-8 speedster, running fastballs in on his hands where soft, if any, contact could be made.

“Our guys are communicating with each other at-bat to at-bat,” Hill said Monday. “That’s been good, to see the communication back and forth between the guys in the dugout, and that’s a big reason for this success.”

Success that Hill is quick to remind can be fleeting.

“It’s going to be 0-0, just like the rest of them,” Hill said of Tuesday’s game against the Green Wave. “So we’ll have to go out and play well.”

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