Warren Arceneaux column: Familiar path to NCAAs
Published 8:00 am Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Winning a regional has been a stated goal of McNeese State head softball coach James Landreneau. The Cowgirls came close last year, winning two games at the Evanston (Ill.) Regional before being eliminated by the host Northwestern Wildcats, who went on to reach the College World Series.
Going into this weekend’s regional at the University of Washington, the Cowgirls have momentum on their side, riding a 10-game winning streak, along with the return of several starters from last year’s team. Big-game experience is a strength for the Cowgirls, who have won three consecutive Southland Conference Tournaments and have won at least one game in each of their last five trips to the NCAA Tournament, dating to 2016.
Those five tournament appearances have followed a similar script, with McNeese entering the tournament on a hot streak. The Cowgirls were on winning streaks ranging from 5-12 games each year.
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To keep the recent success going, the Cowgirls will have to continue to rely on the recipe for success that has served them well as they have won a school-record 44 games to date. Among the team’s keys to success are:
Pair of aces
Primary starting pitchers Whitney Tate and Ashley Vallejo have combined for 34 of the team’s wins and have a combined ERA of 1.74. Each won a game in last year’s tournament and both are in top form entering the regional. Tate has not allowed an earned run over her last four starts while Vallejo has allowed two or fewer earned runs in nine of her 10 last starts, with the exception being a complete game, 4-3 win over LSU. The duo has helped this year’s team set a single-season school record with 21 shutouts.
McNeese leads the country in double plays (33) and double plays per game (0.57). Transfers Mariana Torres and Rylie Bouvier have been stellar at second and third base, respectively, while Reese Reyna has excelled at shortstop after spending last season as the primary second baseman. The outfield trio of Alayis Seneca, Erin Ardoin and Brooke Otto provide plenty of speed and range. The catching tandem of Emily Phillips and Chloe Gomez have thrown out 39 percent of opposing runners attempting to steal bases.
The Cowgirls have been successful on 85 percent of their stolen base attempts, stealing 140 bases in 164 attempts. Every Cowgirls with more than five at-bats has stolen at least one base, with six players stealing at least 11. Every Cowgirl to attempt a steal has been successful at least 50 percent of the time.
The depth of players with enough speed and athleticism to steal bases, as well as an aggressive approach to advancing on balls in play help the Cowgirls apply pressure on opposing defenses throughout the lineup, an idea Landreneau stresses. It’s worked, with McNeese opponents committing 83 errors compared to the Cowgirls’ 39.
No fear factor
In addition to last year’s tournament run, the Cowgirls have two wins over national seeds this year. Those wins are over Washington, who the Cowgirls could play again this weekend; and LSU, who McNeese could see again next week in a super regional should both teams advance.
Last year the team had to make a long trip to Illinois for the regional but showed no ill effects, beating Notre Dame in the opening game. This year’s team has played 17 games against teams ranked in the top 100 of the ratings percentage index, just a few less than the two Power Five conference opponents (Washington has played 21 and Minnesota 24) in the Seattle Regional.
Warren Arceneaux covers high school athletics. Email him at email@example.com