Tears of joy in face of adversity

Scooter Hobbs

FORT WORTH, Texas — Quick. Get Tom Hanks on Line 1. Pronto. Somebody forgot to tell McNeese baseball coach Justin Hill that There’s No Crying in Baseball.

Did he miss the memo?

Not crocodile tears, certainly. Nothing to apologize for. No blubbering.

But it was a little on the watery side of just getting choked up.

For sure there was a whole ton of emotion flowing after Oregon State beat the Cowboys 10-5 Saturday in an elimination game.

So McNeese baseball is again coming back empty-handed from the NCAA Tournament.

The Cowboys are starting to make a habit of getting hot enough to win the Southland Conference Tournament and punch their ticket to the big stage. But at some point they’ll need some wins to show for it.

The trip to the Fort Worth Regional made it back-toback trips for the first time in school history.

Yet this was the fourth in a row without a victory.

At some point you’ve got to break through.

That wasn’t what was bothering Hill, however. And not because he was apart of only one previous two-andout.

It also wasn’t because … OK, a 12-15 loss to TCU Friday and Saturday’s 10-5 loss to Oregon State doesn’t look like much.

It wasn’t that the tough draw McNeese got against TCU and Oregon State, both Omaha regulars, with OSU having won three national championships this century.

It would be a stretch to say McNeese should have won both games. Maybe pushing it even to say it could have taken both. But certainly they were in both with chances to win — far more than the final scores would indicate.

Of the two games, they led at the end of as many innings as they trailed.

Rule of thumb: Better to lead in the late innings than the early ones.

The bullpen surely struggled while wasting encouraging starts from Jonathan Ellison and Will Dion.

Maybe that’s the difference in winning in the postseason.

But one got the feeling that Hill wasn’t thinking about that either.

Sure, he felt for reliever Cameron Foster, who just a week ago was on top of the world while at the bottom of a dog pile, the hero of the tournament title game with a dominant extended performance.

This weekend not so much.

He was the losing pitcher in relief in both games. The weekend’s carnage for three outs in two appearances: eight hits, seven runs (all earned) with three walks.

“He’s down, but it’s just because he cares a whole lot,” Hill said.

Hill said he isn’t worried.

Foster overcame a lot to get to the bottom of that dog pile.

He’ll overcome this weekend, his coach said, using the word he uttered over and over in his postgame swan song.

Resilience.

Gradually, it came into focus what McNeese did to get its coach on the edge of whimpering when it was over.

Everybody knows the story of what this Mc-Neese team overcame — the pandemic, the dual storms, the practice relocations.

Hill, for example, came here with his house in Lake Charles waiting to be put back together.

He wants no sympathy.

He just wanted people to know, mainly: “That was arguably, probably the hardest year of my life,” he said, with a long pause to compose himself. “I wouldn’t have gotten through it without those kids.

‘It’s a miracle that we got here.”

Considering everything, probably so.

So maybe, this once, they can worry about winning a tournament game some other time. It was enough, this time, just to have played two games in the tournament.

“The worst part is we don’t get to be together anymore,” Hill said. “It was about more than baseball with us.”

When Hill thinks back on this team, it won’t be about failing to hold two postseason leads.

He’s still amazed that they somehow played all 56 regular season games. The rest is details.

“They set a standard for toughness, for resilience, for character, for loyalty,” Hill said.

He might have added creative facial hair, but the Grizzlies and the handlebar mustaches were just sideshows.

No, it was something else.

“The one thing I’ll always have to remember about this team is… joy,” Hill finally said.

So that’s what those semi-tears were about.

_

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at scooter.hobbs@americanpress.com””Scooter Hobbs updated

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