It's been about a week since the McNeese State softball team was eliminated from the Southland Conference Tournament in exhausting fashion.
The Cowgirls lost an 11-inning game to Stephen F. Austin before turning around and playing Nicholls State about 30 minutes later in a game that ended well after midnight on May 9.
It turned out, though, that McNeese's season had not ended. The Cowgirls (30-30) will travel to Nacogdoches, Texas, after accepting a bid to the National Invitational Softball Championship.
It will be the Cowgirls' first appearance in the three-year-old tournament.
After the 64 teams were chosen for the NCAA Tournament — 32 conference winners as automatic qualifiers and 32 at-large teams — teams for the NISC were chosen based on their ratings percentage index. McNeese will play in a four-team regional that includes host SFA (35-21), Middle Tennessee (29-28) and onetime SLC member Texas-Arlington (30-26). SFA is the host team for the double-elimination tournament because it is the highest-ranked of the four in the RPI.
The Cowgirls start play at 3 p.m. today against Middle Tennessee.
McNeese has familiarity with Middle Tennessee. The teams met in 2018 with the Cowgirls winning 8-5.
The Raiders lost twice to SFA this season. MTSU won its first two games in the Conference USA Tournament before losing the final two to get eliminated.
"They're usually an offensive-dominated team," McNeese head coach James Landreneau said of the Raiders. "They swing the bats really well. Big, physical team. They hit us hard last year."
Juniors Summer Burgess and Lexi Cushing are two of MTSU's more dangerous hitters. Burgess leads the team with a .342 batting average and 67 hits, while Cushing leads the team in slugging percentage (.602), doubles (10), and home runs (15). In the circle, freshmen Corina Dodd (12-8, 4.82 ERA) and Kailey Ahlstrom (11-11, 3.85) are the Raiders' two main pitchers. Ahlstrom has 94 strikeouts, while Dodd's opposing batting average is .260.
UTA recorded impressive wins against Baylor, Arkansas and Oklahoma State, all of which were nationally ranked at the time they played. McNeese and UTA have not met since the 2012 season.
The Mavs have three players batting over .370, with senior Laura Curry the highest with a .429 batting average. Sophomore pitcher Randi Phillips (14-13, 3.54) leads UTA with 67 strikeouts in 177 innings.
McNeese an SFA are quite familiar with each other, having played four games this season. The Ladyjacks took two of three at home during the regular season, but the Cowgirls got them back, eliminating SFA in the SLC Tournament.
The Cowgirls are led by Justyce McClain (.405, 1 HR, 11 RBIs, 30 SB) and Cori McCrary (.306, 3 HRs, 26 RBIs, 35 SB). They use four pitchers — Caroline Settle (8-9, 3.03), Alexsandra Flores (13-12, 2.92), Amber Coons (4-4, 2.32) and Saleen Flores (5-5, 1.54).