Cowgirls take shot at first place against Nicholls

<p>McNeese’s starting pitcher Caroline Settle during a non-conference game at Cowgirl Diamond in Lake Charles, La., Tuesday, April 3, 2018. (Rick Hickman/Lake Charles American Press)</p>RickHickmanPhotographer
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<p class="p1">The McNeese State softball team will try to ride the wave of its 7-3 victory against No. 16 Baylor when it returns to Cowgirl Diamond for an important series against Nicholls State.

<p class="p3">The three-game Southland Conference series will begin with a doubleheader at 5 p.m. today and conclude with a noon Saturday game.

<p class="p3">The Cowgirls (28-14, 10-5 Southland Conference) sit a game back of the Colonels (26-11, 11-4) and Northwestern State for first place in the league standings, and a successful weekend could strengthen their position as they near the SLC Tournament. The Cowgirls have won 10 of their last 11 conference games and seven of the last nine against Nicholls.

<p class="p3">Northwestern State will host Southeastern Louisiana this weekend. SLU is in a three-way tie for fourth place with Stephen F. Austin and Central Arkansas.

<p class="p3">“Any time you play well, you hope it will spark things and give you some excitement and carries over,” said McNeese head coach James Landreneau. “We were able to get some good pitching and play with some good energy.”

<p class="p3">The Colonels, who have four of their last five games, boast the No. 2 batting average in the league with a .291 clip. They are led by Kasey Frederick (.364) and Amanda Gianelloni (.342). Both have 40 hits, while Gionellloni leads with five home runs, 29 RBIs and 17 walks.

<p class="p3">Nicholls also brings solid pitching to the table with Megan Landry in the circle. Landry (14-6) leads the conference with a 1.64 ERA. The Colonels rank 26th in the nation with a 1.96 team ERA.

<p class="p3">“They can score runs at will, and they return Megan Landry, who we’ve seen,” Landreneau said. “She’s a really good pitcher, and she’s getting a majority of their innings. She did an exceptional job for them last year. She’s a quality pitcher that competes really hard.”

<p class="p3">McNeese has developed a hit-heavy lineup of its own, though the top has remained largely the same since the start of the season.

<p class="p3">Leadoff hitter Justyce McClain leads the Cowgirls with a .441 average and a league-best 60 hits with 40 runs scored and 19 stolen bases.

<p class="p3">Erika Piancastelli has a team-high 14 home runs and 14 doubles, contributing to a .835 slugging percentage. She also has 42 RBIs on 43 hits and 30 walks.

<p class="p3">Morgan Catron (.319) isn’t far behind Piancastelli with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs.

<p class="p3">McNeese’s young pitching staff has also come around, with all four contributing significantly over the last two weeks.

<p class="p3">Alexsandra Flores remains the anchor with a 13-6 record and 2.46 ERA.

<p class="p3">“Every week’s a new week as far as pitching goes,” Landreneau said. “What’s good about our pitching staff is we’ve been able to see someone different in different facets, whether it be as a starter or a relief pitcher, against different teams. I just applaud them for staying the course, buying into the process and just doing their job.”

<p class="p1"><span class="s1"><strong>Nicholls St. </strong></span><strong>at McNeese </strong><strong>5 p.m., DH</strong>

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