Jim Gazzolo column: NCAA trip is Cowgirls’ to lose

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, May 11, 2023

Much like the weather that splashed through town Wednesday, tournaments are completely unpredictable.

A season’s worth of victories can be washed away by a few bad plays.

A season’s worth of woe can also be reversed in a flash flood of big moments.

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It’s why they are fun for the underdogs and not so much for favorites.

Add a few rain showers, a little lightning and three-plus hours of a delay, and suddenly you have all the makings of a wild ride full of surprises and disappointments. That can scare any head coach into panic.

It is also why McNeese State softball coach James Landreneau plans for everything possible that could go wrong and works on those scenarios.

“We talk about adversity all the time,” Landreneau said.

Oddly enough, his teams even practice for them. Landreneau plans rain delays into his practice schedules.

“It is something we do so we will be prepared for anything that could come up,” Landreneau said.

It paid off last spring when the Cowgirls were forced to sit around for hours and hours during the NCAA Evanston Regional before knocking off Notre Dame.

So the long weather delay before opening Southland Conference Tournament title defense Wednesday was not big deal to his team. When the game finally started against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, McNeese simply did what it has done 41 previous times this season — win.

It was close, as McNeese rallied to walk-off the Islanders, 2-1.

“We had to learn that last year,” Cowgirls pitcher Whitney Tate said. “It is not something you wish for. Because of last year, a calmness came knowing we have done this before.”

However, the Cowgirls still have two more days of winning to do before they get back to where they ultimately want to go, a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Seems almost unfair that McNeese has to play for its just rewards this week. Over the past few seasons, including this one, the Cowgirls have done more than enough to seemingly earn a postseason spot in the NCAA no matter what the outcome of the SLC championships.

Having won the regular season, and having played a more-than-competitive schedule by any mid-major accounts, it would look on paper like they should already be in. That’s not how it works when you are a smaller school from a lesser conference.

McNeese sits with a ratings percentage index ranking of 44th in the nation. However, the résumé is more impressive than that.

Of their wins, three came against teams ranked in the top 25 at the time, the highest being a victory over No. 9 Washington. Six of their 14 losses were at the hands of ranked teams, three of those coming to Louisiana-Lafayette.

It’s unlikely the Southland becomes a two-bid league, but there is nothing else McNeese can do for its résumé, and maybe, if winning the tourney doesn’t happen, the selection committee should give the Cowgirls a look.

“I don’t know what more we can do,” Landreneau said. “It’s not up to us. We can’t control what the committee does in that room.”

Which makes this week even more interesting.

You get the feeling the Cowgirls can’t really win the Southland over the next two days but rather only lose it.

That’s the pressure of building a winning tradition.

And if they don’t win this week, then it will be a long wait until they play again.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com