Warren Arceneaux column: Adversity doesn’t keep Cowgirls down

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, April 13, 2023

Halfway through the Southland softball schedule, the McNeese State Cowgirls are alone in first place with an 11-1 record in conference play, one game ahead of second-place Southeastern Louisiana.

The Cowgirls have taken care of business against the bottom half of the conference. The degree of difficulty will rise over the final four weeks of the regular season when the Cowgirls face opponents who are .500 or better in conference play each weekend, starting tomorrow when Nicholls State comes to town.

The Cowgirls have a defined style of play that the team has used to build a stellar 29-12 record despite a rash of injuries. Stingy pitching, stellar defense and aggressive baserunning have carried the team to success.

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The starting pitching rotation of Ashley Vallejo, Whitney Tate and Shaelyn Sanders has been dominant, particularly in conference play. Each of the trio is undefeated and sports an ERA under two runs per game in conference games. Vallejo, who went 9-0 in conference play last season en route to winning the Conference Pitcher of the Year award, is on track to repeat, with a 5-0 record and 0.74 ERA in conference games. She has allowed 16 baserunners in 28 innings against conference foes while striking out 42.

Tate has allowed one earned run in 23 innings while Sanders is 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 13 strikeouts in as many innings.

The infield, a question mark coming into the season with only first baseman Crislyne Moreno remaining a regular starter at the same position, is now a strength of the team with second baseman Mariana Torres, shortstop Reese Reyna and third baseman Rylie Bouvier all providing stellar defense, the best in the SLC. Torres and Reyna have committed eight combined errors in more than 300 chances. And the Cowgirls are tied for the national lead in double plays turned per game.

McNeese ranks sixth in the country in stolen bases per game with 2.76 and has been highly efficient on the basepaths, with an 89 percent success rate on steal attempts. Leadoff hitter Alayis Seneca and two-hole hitter Reyna are a combined 38-for-42 on steal attempts while Erin Ardoin (15 of 16) gives the team another threat at the bottom of the order. Catchers Chloe Gomez, Emily Phillips and Kelsey Gaspard have combined to steal 13 bases while allowing 19. Rylee Eyster, the team’s primary pinch runner, is perfect on 12 steal attempts.

The running game helps offset the lack of power in the lineup. The team ranks in the bottom quarter of the country in homers per game at 0.24 with 10 homers all season. No player has more than two.

The good news is that the Cowgirls don’t allow many homers, with opponents hitting 15. McNeese also has more extra-base hits than opponents by a margin of 72-54. Six regular starters — Seneca, Reyna, Torres, Ardoin, Moreno and Bouvier — are all hitting .300 or better and the team’s athleticism throughout the order allows them to pressure opponents on the basepaths, creating opportunities to snag extra bases to help make up for the lack of power.

Recent hot streaks at the plate from Moreno and Kaylee Lopez, as well as the impending return of injured Phillips and leadoff hitter Gomez to the lineup, should provide the offense a boost. The team has flaunted its depth over the past few weeks while dealing with the injuries to remain atop the conference race and keep hope alive for a repeat of last season’s postseason success.

Warren Arceneaux covers high school athletics. Email him at