Cameron Foster, McNeese State

McNeese State closer Cameron Foster, a onetime starter, struggled to find his groove, until winning a face-to-face showdown with Sam Houston State’s Colton Cowser in the championship game of the Southland Conference Tournament last week in Hammond.

There he was, standing on the mound in the middle of Alumni Field in Hammond on Saturday night, all eyes on him.

It was a far cry from where Cameron Foster was at midseason, when he was struggling to find his spot in the McNeese State bullpen.

But there he was, and 60 feet, 6 inches away facing out toward him was the Southland Conference’s Player of the Year, Colton Cowser. A sure-fire first-round pick in next month’s major league draft, Cowser was all that stood in the way of Foster and Cowboys history.

On the line, victory, a conference championship and a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, a first for McNeese. All eyes were set on Foster, who was not only holding a baseball in his right hand but also the program’s future.

Cowser, who had doubled and tripled earlier in the game, was the last man anybody on the McNeese bench wanted to see batting. The lefty power hitter could ruin the moment for the Cowboys with one swing of his bat.

“I never would have imagined I would be there earlier in the year,” Foster said. “I was just trying to find my game.”

At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, the redshirt junior flamethrower from Houston, who teammates call “Big Sexy,” is hard to miss, but something in his game was missing for a good portion of the year. With all the tools Foster was lacking what he needed most to become a real force was believing in himself.

“I was just trying to find my groove,” Foster said. “I really didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself a lot of the time. I just wasn’t really sure of anything.”

His season hit rock bottom in a loss at Houston Baptist, when the Huskies walked off a win against him in a save situation.

“I went to him and told him right then I was OK with him losing a game for us,” McNeese head coach Justin Hill said. “I told him I had confidence in him. He just had to learn to accept a loss. It happens to the best.”

That was the moment something clicked in Foster.

“I decided to change things up right there and believe in myself,” Foster said.

It has been far from perfect, but Foster, a former starter, had found his calling on this team. Even losing two heartbreakers at Northwestern State didn’t slow him down.

“I learned from those games,” Foster said. “I learned from my mistakes.”

So there he was, last Saturday night, ready for the pitch of his life.

“It seemed like a perfect fit,” Foster said. “(Coswer) had gotten me pretty good earlier in the year. It all seemed fitting that I face him.”

But this was not the same Foster nor was it the same McNeese team. With all the confidence in the world, Foster delivered his pitch and Coswer swung late, lifting a fly ball to left.

It fell softly into the glove of Julian Gonzales, far from being able to do any harm. McNeese was going back to the NCAA Tournament.

“It was a great feeling,” Foster said. “At first I wasn’t sure about being a closer. I came here as a starter, but I love this.

“Being the guy at the end is great. I love being the guy at the bottom of the dog pile.”

He got that last weekend after working a tense final 42/3 innings in the Cowboys’ 2-1 title victory over Sam Houston State. He entered the game with the tying run on third and one our in the fifth and got a strikeout.

Foster was never in trouble after that.

“All of his pitches, nobody was on him,” said catcher Brett Whelton. “When he came in and threw his first pitch I did not want anybody else to come in. I knew he had it.”

But a closer going that long is not normal.

“With him being a former starter, we can count on him to finish games no matter how much is left,” Hill said. “We don’t need to worry about the bridge from the starter, if we need Cameron to go multiple innings he can do that.”

And his teammate believe in him, always have.

“We all knew what he could do, we had seen it,” Whelton said. “He just needed to believe in what he could do. He’s our guy at the end.”

For the year Foster has a 1-3 record with six saves and a 3.77 earned run average, almost four full points lower than it was at midseason.Down the stretch he did not allow a run in his last five appearances and two runs in his last eight appearances.

“I can’t wait to get my next chance,” Foster said. “I’m ready.”

He said he hopes he gets his shot this weekend in the Fort Worth Regional. At least he knows all eyes will be on him if the Cowboys are trying to close out a win.

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