Order restored: Missing elements back in lineup

Published 3:35 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2024

When the college baseball season was set to begin, Justin Hill said he felt good about his offense.

The McNeese State head coach figured he had a lineup that could score runs to keep his team going until the pitching came together.

He was counting on two key players to anchor the group, Braley Hollins and Elliot Hebert. They were expected to lock down the middle of the lineup.

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However, both were injured early and missed games. The Cowboys struggled during that time.

McNeese won two of its first nine Southland Conference games as runs became hard to come by.

“We had to try and figure things out at that point and move a lot of guys around,” Hill said. “It took time to adjust.”

Hebert missed 19 games with a foot injury while Hollins has been out 33 games, most after he was hit in the head by a pitch in the fourth game of the season.

“Nobody was sure about when I could come back,” Hollins said. “They said six to eight weeks, but they weren’t sure. There was so much uncertainty I didn’t know if I would be out for the season or not.”

It wasn’t much different for Hebert, who called it “frustrating” to wait.

“Me and Braley’s injuries put a damper on the offense,” Hebert said. “But we are healthy now.”

Hollins missed the final two games of the regular season with what Hill called a “lower-back injury” but is likely to play again as the SLC Tournament begins Wednesday. The Cowboys (29-25) open against Northwestern State (22-31) at 9.a.m. in Hammond.

The return of both to the lineup, along with the addition of Simon Larranaga, has turned around the McNeese offense.

In his 17 games since returning, Hollis has hit .317 with three home runs and 17 runs batted in. Hebert missed the first 16 games and has rallied to hit .320 with five homers and 33 RBIs, second on the team.

“They make a huge difference in our lineup,” said outfielder Cooper Hext. “They are big hitters who can hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

Larranaga, who has worked his way into the leadoff role, is hitting .308 and tied with Hext for the team lead in home runs with seven.

Those three have helped the Cowboys score at least seven runs in 11 of their last 15 games and led to eight victories in their last 11 outings.

“We knew Elliot would be a feature guy along with Braley in the middle of our order,” Hill said. “With them we are a different offense. Without them it was a massive void.”

Now back and healthy, Hebert said the best is yet to come.

“We really picked it up in the back half of the season,” Hebert said. “We want to keep that momentum going.”