It almost seems like the Southland Conference Baseball Tournament started a week early for McNeese State.
The Cowboys have one three-game series standing between them and either the end of the season or postseason play in Sugar Land, Texas, in the SLC Tournament. McNeese will travel to Husky Field to take on Houston Baptist beginning at 2 p.m. today.
Going into the last week of the regular season, McNeese (29-23, 14-13 SLC) is in a three-way tie with Northwestern State (29-21) and Stephen F. Austin (22-30) for fifth place. If those three teams remained in a three-way tie at the end of the season, McNeese would be the higher seed by virtue of a tiebreaker, owning the best record against the other two teams.
One win over HBU (17-33, 9-18) would get McNeese to 15 conference wins, a number that Cowboys head coach Justin Hill said is usually the magic number to make the tournament. That should clinch a berth.
This week will be different for a few reasons. The first is starting a series on a Thursday instead of Friday. Also, HBU plays all of its home games during the day. But Hill said he doesn't feel like it's anything that should adversely affect the Cowboys.
"They've got 15 conference games scheduled there, they're always going to be in the day," Hill said of HBU, which has a 13-11 home record. "We play games during the day. It may feel a little different, but it'll be the same group of guys I roll out there."
Hill confirmed that junior right-handed pitcher Rhett Deaton (7-3, 3.62 ERA) will start tonight. Deaton has pitched seven or more innings in his last three starts, all wins. He's also trimmed his ERA from 6.50.
Hill did not reveal the other two starting pitchers for the series.
HBU comes into the series knowing that its season will be over when the final out is made. The Huskies were swept last week at New Orleans, but took two of three from Nicholls State the week prior. HBU also won a home series against Northwestern State.
Brandon Bena leads HBU with a .324 batting average and 35 RBIs. On the mound, Brady Batten (2-5, 4.46 ERA) has been HBU's first starting pitcher for weekend series. But Kyle Gruller (3-3) has been the Huskies' best pitcher from a numbers standpoint, with a team-low 2.18 ERA and a team-leading 85 strikeouts. HBU's combined ERA is 5.47.
McNeese and HBU haven't played in the regular season since the 2016 season, when the Huskies came to Lake Charles and won two of three games. The teams met in the 2017 SLC Tournament, when HBU eliminated McNeese 5-4.