Cowgirl rally comes up run short

Published 10:07 pm Thursday, May 9, 2024

The Cowgirls weren’t going to give up their title without a fight.

Scoring four times in the bottom of the seventh, McNeese State somehow brought the winning run to the plate Thursday night in Hammond.

But senior Mariana Torres, in her final college at-bat, flew out to right field, ending McNeese State’s reign over the Southland Conference Tournament.

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For the first time since 2019, somebody other than the Cowgirls will be crowned tournament champions.

The top-seeded Cowgirls, who were looking for their record-fourth straight tourney title, were beaten by No. 4 Incarnate Word for the second time in as many days.

Scoring five times in the first two innings, the Cardinals toppled McNeese 8-7 at North Oaks Park. McNeese’s season ended at 40-20.

But the Cowgirls didn’t go down easy. Down 8-3 entering the bottom of the seventh, freshman Bella Perez knocked in two runs, and Reese Reyna and Crislyne Morano each added knocked in one before the final out was recorded.

The Cardinals (34-16) had knocked McNeese into the elimination round with a 3-2 win Wednesday. The Cowgirls had a 21-3 record all-time over UIW before that, including a seven-game win streak.

Those and McNeese’s streak of three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament are over. UIW will play No. 2 seed Southeastern for the title Friday and must win twice. Both programs are looking for their first SLC titles.

McNeese was looking for its record 10th championship. The Cowgirls finished the tournament 2-2, which is as many losses as they had in 24 regular-season conference games.

Jillan Guiterrez tripled in a run and scored another in the first as the Cardinals took control early. They chased McNeese starter Ryann Schexnayder (9-3) with three runs on four hits in the second, to grab a 5-0 lead and were never caught.

In fact, despite winning their first game Thursday 4-3 in eight innings over Nicholls, McNeese led for just three outs all day. 

The Cowgirls began their comeback attempt after the Cardinals went up 6-0 in the third. They scored two runs in the bottom of the third on Corine Poncho’s RBI triple and Alexis Dibbley’s run-scoring single. Mariana Torres’ home run in the fourth cut the lead to 6-3, but McNeese would get no closer. 

UIW added two runs in the top of the seventh to end any doubt about which team was advancing.

Dibbley was McNeese’s big hitter during the tournament. The Freshman of the Year finished the day 6-for-7 with a home run in the two games.

She was 8-for-13 (.615) over the four games and an even more impressive 8 of 11 (.727) in elimination contests.

Earlier Thursday, McNeese rallied from two runs down to tie and then beat Nicholls to advance to the semifinals. 

Freshman catcher Bella Perez’s two-out triple to right-center scored Dibbley with the winning run. Senior ace Shaelyn Sanders, the Southland Conference Pitcher of the Year, worked a perfect bottom of the inning as McNeese continued its run at a record fourth straight tournament title. 

That gave McNeese its program-record third straight 40-win season and fifth in the seven full years under head coach James Landreneau. The 2020 campaign ended early due to COVID.

Sanders went the distance, allowing just six hits while striking out five. She improved to 20-10 with the victory. She finished throwing 115 pitches.