New experiences: Cowgirls see different regional, teams

Published 11:34 am Friday, May 20, 2022

With the Southland Conference regular season and tournament championships already in the bag, the McNeese State Cowgirls softball team hopes to add a new honor this weekend when they attempt to win the first NCAA regional in program history.

The third-seeded Cowgirls (38-19) will play No. 2 seed Notre Dame (39-10) in the first game of the Evanston Regional at 1 p.m. today in making their eighth NCAA Tournament appearance.

Host and No. 9 national seed Northwestern will play No. 4 seed Oakland (26-15) at 3:30 p.m. today. The winners of today’s games will play at 10 a.m. Saturday for a spot in the regional final. The losers will play an elimination game at 12:30 p.m.

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“It’s totally new for us; we’re excited to have this opportunity to go someplace new and play people we haven’t seen before,” Cowgirls head coach James Landreneau said. “It’s something different. In the postseason you just hope you play to your best ability and see where the chips fall.

“I like the toughness of our team and we have been playing well as of late.”

The Cowgirls enter on a roll, having won seven straight and 12 of their last 14 games, including all three at last week’s SLC Tournament in Hammond. Notre Dame had an eight-game winning streak broken in its lone game of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, a 7-3 loss to Clemson.

The Fighting Irish are ranked 18th in the nation and are led by first baseman Karina Gaskins, the ACC Player of the Year after hitting .434 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs. In the circle, the Irish rotate three pitchers — Payton Todd (15-4, 2.51 ERA), Alexis Holloway (14-3, 2.99) and Shannon Becker (10-3, 1.63), all starting between 11 and 20 games and all making at least 25 appearances. Each also has at least one save, led by Becker’s four.

The Cowgirls showed their pitching depth last week, with each starter — Ashley Vallejo, Whitney Tate and Shaelyn Sanders — earning a win at the Southland Tournament. Vallejo, the SLC Pitcher of the Year, leads the group with a 17-7 record, 2.20 ERA and 117 strikeouts.

Freshman first baseman Crislyne Moreno was named MVP of the Southland Tournament after hitting .700 and driving in five runs over the three games, including the winning runs against Northwestern State in Game 1 and Southeastern Louisiana in Game 2.

The teams have met once, a 6-1 Notre Dame win in 2003.