One-game season, McNeese in do-or-die play-in

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, May 23, 2023

If the Cowboys are going to journey back to the NCAA baseball tournament, they will have to have to take the long road.

McNeese State finished tied for fifth in the Southland Conference but will play tonight in the play-in game.

The Cowboys (33-21) ended the regular season as the sixth seed after tiebreakers and will take on No. 7 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (24-29) in a one-game showdown at 6 p.m. in Joe Miller Ballpark.

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“We did this to ourselves,” said McNeese head coach Justin Hill. “We put ourselves in this spot and we will have to fight our way out of it.

“This will be a different scenario for us. This first game is different. It’s win or go home.”

McNeese will give the baseball to its best weapon, ace right-hander Grant Rogers (11-1, 2.00 ERA).

With a win tonight Rogers would set the single-season program record for victories, a mark he shares with Chris Howay (2000).

“I’m ready to go,” Rogers said. “This is a fun time to play. It doesn’t matter who we go against, we just have to play the way can.”

Rogers will take his league-best ERA into the game one day after being named the SLC’s Pitcher of the Year for a second consecutive season. The Islanders have not announced a starter. Collin Purcell (5-6), who earned his second SLC Pitcher of the Week honor on Sunday, is a candidate. He went the distance in a 7-3 Islanders win over Incarnate Word on Saturday.

Rogers gives McNeese confidence as a win would move the Cowboys into the double-elimination portion of the tournament.

“We got our guy going,” Hill said. “He has done it all season long so we feel as good as we can given the situation.

“You never feel really good going into a one-game playoff, but it’s where we are at.”

Rogers beat Corpus 8-3 in Lake Charles on April 7 in that series opener. Rogers went the distance allowing seven hits and the three runs while throwing a career-high 124 pitches.

He finished with six strikeouts and no walks.

“Whatever it takes, we are going to shoot our best,” Hill said. “We will worry about Wednesday on Wednesday. But if we are going to go down, we are going to go down with our best.”

Hill could also reach a milestone tonight. A win would give him 300 for his career, all at McNeese.

“I would rather that not be the focus,” Hill said.

The Cowboys are hoping to turn a so-so season into a postseason run like they have in the past under Hill.

“Everything we still want is in front of us,” he said. “We just don’t have any room for error. We have to be prepared for everything.”

The Cowboys may have gotten motivation Monday. Other than Rogers, only second baseman Brad Burckel made the all-SLC teams. Burckel was selected to the second team.

Outfielder Cooper Hext and Rogers earned all-defensive honors.

The winner of tonight’s game will play top-seeded Nicholls State (30-22) at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

“All we want to do is find a way to score one more run than Corpus,” Hill said.

In the postseason, that is all that matters.