Smile of a champion: Cowboys need one victory

The McNeese State baseball team has set itself up for a chance to win its first Southland Conference regular-season championship since 2006 this weekend with a victory in its final series of the season, against Lamar at Joe Miller Ballpark.

The Cowboys’ (34-17, 20-7 SLC) first chance to clinch at least a share of the league’s title will come at 6 p.m. today when they take on the Cardinals (32-21, 15-12).

“We get a chance to take care of business at home,” said Cowboys head coach Justin Hill. “It’s been a little while since we’ve had a chance to do that here in Lake Charles, and that’s a good feeling.”

Hill said he wants his team to take advantage of the opportunity they have created for themselves and enjoy the fruits of their labor with a win.

“I want our kids to embrace it and have a good time with it,” Hill said. “They’ve earned this opportunity, and it’s got a chance to be fun.”

The Cowboys have struggled against SLC opponents as of late, losing their last two series to Sam Houston State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

But after a weekend sweep of Creighton in Omaha, Nebraska, and a 5-4 loss to Houston in a game which they swung the bats well, Hill said he thinks his team is headed in the right direction as the postseason quickly approaches.

“There are going to be ups and downs on offense,” Hill said. “That’s just going to be part of it. … But we kept swinging, and we kept getting after it. We put some good at-bats together and kept playing hard. It was good to see that.”

As usual, lefty Austin Sanders (6-2, 3.15 ERA) will start on the mound for the Cowboys in the series’ first game.

Sanders has consistently put the Cowboys in position to win ballgames throughout the season, most recently in Omaha when he limited the Blue Jays to a run on five hits in 623 innings.

He will likely go against Lamar right-hander Carson Lance (7-5, 3.60), who gave up five runs on eight hits in 713 innings against Stephen F. Austin last Friday.

The Cowboys are led offensively by Shane Selman who leads McNeese in all three triple-crown categories with a .351 batting average, 13 home runs and five RBIs.

McNeese has a team batting average of .303 with six regular members of the lineup batting .300 or better.

Lamar right fielder Cutter McDowell leads the Cardinals with a .367 batting average, and first baseman Trey Silvers has 10 home runs.

“We’re playing for more than (a bid in the conference tournament) right now,” Hill said. “That’s something our kids set out to do. They wanted to play their best baseball at the end of the year. They hold in their hands an opportunity to win a championship at home. That’s something we’re going to embrace.”

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