Two wins will put McNeese in SLC Tournament

Cowgirl’s starting pitcher Alexsandra Flores against Virginia at Cowgirl Diamond in Lake Charles, La., Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018.

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The McNeese State softball team can clinch a spot in the Southland Conference Tournament this weekend with a successful series against Stephen F. Austin beginning at 6 p.m. today in Nacogdoches, Texas.

With six games remaining on the schedule, the Cowgirls (33-16, 15-6 SLC) can clinch a postseason spot with a pair of wins that would put them at least three games ahead of Northwestern State, over which they own a tiebreaker.

But the Ladyjacks (27-17, 15-6), in the midst of their first winning season since 2010, likely won’t make it easy as they are tied with the Cowgirls for first place and Nicholls State, and they, too, will try to clinch a postseason berth. They’ve won their last six games and ahve won seven consecutive SLC games.

“The stakes are the stake and we can’t really control those things,” said McNeese head coach James Landreneau. “We know SFA is a quality team. They’re well coached, they don’t make many mistakes and they pitch it extremely well.”

Landreneau said the fact that no team in the conference has yet clinched a tournament spot with two weekends left says a lot about the parity of the SLC and college softball as a whole.

“You’re seeing some quality coaching from our conference,” Landreneau said. “I think that’s what it is. It’s great for our conference to have this much parity and excitement going into the last two weeks of the season. It’s a pretty cool race for the fans to be watching.”

The Ladyjacks enter the series with a team ERA of 2.00, the best in the conference. SFA’s pitching staff is led by the duo of Makayla Sikes and Callee Guffey, who have pitched a combined 223 1/3 innings.

Sikes lead SFA with a 16-6 record with a 2.05 ERA thanks in large part to 107 strikeouts, while Guffey has an 8-8 record with a 3.38 ERA.

“Their two pitchers in the circle have had a lot of success,” Landreneau said. “They’ve been able to keep opposing teams’ scores down and keeping them from touching home too many times.”

Leadoff hitter Justyce Mc-Clain enters the weekend with a team-high .429 ERA with 69 hits and 47 runs scored. She is followed in the order by Erika Piancastelli, who leads the Cowgirls with 16 home runs and 15 doubles.

Morgan Catron has also emerged as one of the Cowgirls’ top hitters, batting .328 with 44 hits and 10 home runs.

Alexsandra Flores continues to serve as McNeese’s ace in the circle with a 15-7 record and a 2.93 ERA. Freshman pitchers Caroline Settle (7-6, 4.28), Amber Coons (6-2, 3.46) and Ashley Koncir (5-1, 3.71) have all split time behind her over the last four weeks.

The pitching staff will go against a lineup led by Bryana Novegil (.431). The Ladyjacks also have three players — Margarita Corona, Amber Landry and Taylor Fraccastoro — with seven home runs.

“We’re going to play a well-coached and fundamentally sound team,” Landreneau said. “We have to match that kind of effort.”

McNeese at SFA 6 p.m.

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