Piancastelli delivers on second chance

<p>Cowgirls Erika Piancastelli drives in the winning run in the bottom of the 8th to beat Nicholls during the Southland Conference softball tournament at Cowgirl Diamond in Lake Charles, La., Thursday, May 10, 2018. (Rick Hickman/Lake Charles American Press)</p>Rick HickmanRickHickmanPhotographer

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<p class="p1">It’s not often a sport like softball gives you a second chance, especially in consecutive at-bats, but that’s exactly what McNeese State third baseman and four-time Southland Conference Player of the Year received in the eighth inning in a semifinal matchup against Nicholls State at Cowgirl Diamond on Thursday.

<p class="p3">Two innings earlier, she stepped to the plate with two outs, the bases loaded and a chance to give the Cowgirls their first lead of the game going into the final inning of regulation. Unfortunately for the Cowgirls something pretty rare happened: she struck out looking. 

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<p class="p3">“It was frustrating,” Erika Piancastelli said. “But my team knows how to get me out of that situation. I was frustrated on defense, but I looked at (McNeese pitcher Alexsandra Flores), and she believes in it, and I look at my defense and they’re ready to go. They all have my back.”

<p class="p3">Two innings later, Piancastelli once again stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs, this time with a chance to put the game away for good.

<p class="p3">The ball zipped off her bat and bounced off Nicholls second baseman Emma Holland’s glove and onto the ground, scoring Taylor Edwards, securing a 3-2 victory and bringing McNeese within a win of its third consecutive SLC championship.

<p class="p3">“That was a gutty performance,” said McNeese head coach James Landreneau. “What’s crazy is — and we’ve been harping on this for a long time and you never know when it’s going to come to fruition — but somewhere along the line we were going to have to win a 2-2 game. We were going to have to grind it out and find a way to win when we don’t have our best stuff.”

<p class="p3">The Cowgirls struggled offensively all game. They had little trouble getting players on the basepaths, but bringing them around to score proved to be a struggle from start to finish.

<p class="p3">McNeese stranded nine players on base through the first six innings, and it went down in order once — in the seventh inning.

<p class="p3">This allowed the Colonels (39-14) to go up 2-0 after scratching a run across with back-to-back hits in the first inning and a home run by Kara Frederick in the fourth inning.

<p class="p3">Momentum sided with Nicholls for the first 41⁄2 innings until Morgan Catron hit her third home run of the tournament that tied the score at two runs apiece and gave the Cowgirls the boost they needed to force extra innings.

<p class="p3">“I don’t think that moment was any bigger than any other situation because that game could have gone both ways,” Catron said. “Really and truly it’s just nice to be able to go in and give (Flores) some comfort in the circle. She’s going out there and doing her job, so we have to produce as an offense.”

<p class="p3">Flores (18-9) earned her second complete-game win of the tournament going all eight innings, giving up two runs on six hits with six strikeouts and a pair of walks.

<p class="p3">The Cowgirls will try to put the finishing touches on what they hope will be a championship appearance at noon today in a rematch with Nicholls, which beat Southeastern Louisiana to stay alive. The Colonels will have to beat the Cowgirls twice to win the title.

<p class="p3">“We want to win that first game about as much as we want to win every single game we play,” Landreneau said. “We want our kids to come out and play well and put together good at-bats. Our focus needs to not be about winning a championship. Our focus is whether we can go out there and play good, fundamentally sound softball.”

<p class="p1"><span class="s1"><strong>McNeese </strong></span><span class="s1"><strong>3, </strong></span><span class="s1"><strong>Nicholls St. </strong></span><span class="s1"><strong>2</strong></span>

<p class="p2"> 

<p class="p2"><strong>MSU vs. Nicholls St.</strong>

<p class="p2"><strong><strong>Today @ </strong>Noon</strong>