Cowboys set to open SLC play

Published 11:51 am Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Finally, the Cowboys are going to play a league game.

Riding a three-game win streak, improving McNeese State will open Southland Conference play Thursday night against Northwestern State.

The Cowboys have played better of late, winning a home series last weekend over Big Ten foe Northwestern and toppling Mississippi Valley State Tuesday night, 6-0. It was their second shutout in three games.

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Now they start to find out how they stack up against the rest of the SLC. McNeese continues its nine-game homestand with a 6 p.m. first pitch at Joe Miller Ballpark The Cowboys are 10-3 at home and 12-10 overall.

Of McNeese’s 10 losses six have come against two teams currently ranked in the top four nationally. The Demons will enter at 7-18, 1-2 having beaten Louisiana Christian 5-4 earlier this week.

“We have been through some adversity,” said McNeese head coach Justin Hill. “We have also been up against the injury bug. We have fought through that.”

Hill will start right-hander Cameron LeJeune in the opener. LeJeune is 2-2 with a 4.24 earned run average and will be making his fourth start of the year.

He will face fellow righty Aidan Newton, who is 0-2 with a 5.31 ERA. The Demon pitching staff has struggled, posting an ERA of 7.19.

“I like where we are from a rotation standpoint,” said Hill. 

McNeese will follow with Zack Voss (0-3, 7.15) getting the start on Friday and lefty Alexis Gravel (0-1, 4.29) scheduled for the finale Saturday. Northwestern State will counter with righties Chase Prestwich (2-3, 8,23) and Dawson Flowers (1-1, 6,04) in that order.

Nobody is hotter than McNeese’s Cooper Hext. The outfielder is 7-for-9 over the last two games. He had four hits in Tuesday’s victory, including a double and triple.

Hext has raised his average to .299 with the big push. He leads the Southland in triples with five.

Conner Westenburg will carry a six-game hitting streak into the series. Westenburg also had a double and triple in the win over the Delta Devils.

Westenburg is one of three Cowboys hitting better than .300 at .333. He also leads the team in home runs (5) and runs batted in (18). 

Braden Duhon tops the McNeese offense with a .350 average, good for eighth in the league.

Bo Willis tops the Demons with a .299 average and is one of three Northwestern State players with three home runs.

Hill hopes his team can find some consistency now that they are playing conference games.

“I’m curious how we will respond,” said Hill. “We lose focus sometimes but we believe that is fixable.”

The Cowboys hope they have fixed it enough to make a run in the Southland race.