Hits keep coming, Cowboys boast SLC’s most offensive lineup

Published 7:25 pm Wednesday, May 18, 2022

When the college baseball season began, the biggest question for the Cowboys was the offense.

Having lost their top two hitters to graduation, the meat of the order was an unknown.

That’s no longer the case.

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Even with the loss of the top returning bat, Tré Obregon, who was hurt after 15 games, the McNeese State offense has found its game.

The Cowboys will ride into the postseason on the wave of the Southland Conference’s top offensive attack, one that has become more balanced over the season than expected.

“I love this offense,” head coach Justin Hill said. “We thought we might be able to do this.”

The Cowboys have scored 10 runs or more in seven of their last eight games, including each of the last four. Each of those were wins that helped them claim the regular-season title by one game.

Last weekend was the most impressive. Needing to sweep Houston Baptist on the road, the Cowboys outscored the Huskies 53-20, averaging 17.7 runs a game.

That’s the main reason their was no panic in the dugout when they fell behind 7-0 in the first inning of Saturday’s series finale. They pounded out 46 hits and homered five times in the league’s biggest park, Husky Stadium.

Over the last eight games McNeese has averaged just under 16 hits a game.

“We saw flashes of this in the fall and spring,” said associate head coach Nick Zaleski, who is in charge of the offense. “The kids have really worked hard to do this.”

The Cowboys lead the league in hitting with a .304 average, 12 points ahead of New Orleans. They have scored the most runs at 398 (7.8 per game), 29 ahead of the Privateers, who have played one more game.

Going into the season the coaching staff said they expected the Cowboys to be able to run. The Cowboys have done that, swiping 122 bases in 144 attempts.

“We knew we could run and apply pressure on the pitcher and the defense,” Zaleski said.  “The home run total, if I had to have a surprise, that would be the biggest.”

McNeese has hit 50 homers in 51 games with three players — Julian Gonzales, Brad Burckel and Kade Morris — all leading the way with eight.

Two of those guys, Gonzales and Morris, bat in the back half of the lineup.

“That’s a big thing,” Hill said. “We can score from anywhere in our lineup. That stretches our offense out.”

McNeese has half of the league’s top six hitters after the regular season. Payton Harden leads the conference at .371 and has adapted his role as more of a run producer this season with 38 RBIs.

Burckel is at .360 and has given balance to the order since transferring from Houston.

Braden Duhon is sixth at .333 since entering the starting lineup in right field and taking over the leadoff spot in the lineup.

Then there are transfers Kade Hunter and Josh Leslie, both of whom started off in limited roles. Leslie was injured and Hunter was waiting his chance.

When Obregon got hurt, Hunter and Leslie stepped in.

“Tré going down opened up some opportunities for some other guys who were ready to go,” Zaleski said. “That is what we have had all year. Guys have taken advantage of their chances.”