Cowboys’ chance to play relaxed

Final SLC series all that matters

McNeese State coach Justin Hill greets LSU coach Paul Mainieri before their game last year in Lake Charles.

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With no Southland Conference games on the schedule and final exams out of the way, the McNeese State baseball team can relax and simply play baseball.

And the Cowboys will start the week with a midweek game against in-state powerhouse LSU at Alex Box Stadium at 6:30 p.m. today.

The Cowboys (22-26) have struggled as of late, losing five of their last six league games to fall from second to fifth place in the SLC standings.

But head coach Justin Hill said the Cowboys will use the off week to decompress after a stressful up-anddown season.

“The combination of not having a conference opponent this weekend, being through with finals and putting ourselves in a good situation going into the last conference weekend, there will be enough pressure just from a baseball standpoint,” Hill said. “We have five straight games where the only pressure is just playing baseball. We don’t have to worry about what our record is or conference standings.”

McNeese heads to Baton Rouge to play the Tigers (28-20) after a rough weekend on the road against Texas A&MCorpus Christi in which poor pitching cost the Cowboys early and often in the first two games.

After giving up four earned runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings in his Saturday start, McNeese senior Tyler Wesley (3-3, 4.50 ERA) will get the start against LSU.

Hill said he wanted to get Wesley back out on the mound in quick order after he struggled Saturday, and the fact that the Cowboys don’t have a conference series scheduled for the weekend allowed him to make that call without risking his rotation in a vital series.

“Tyler did not have the outing that he had the previous weekend, and he was only (at 63 pitches) Saturday,” Hill said. “So we’re going to let him go with a nonconference series this weekend. We’ll probably move a few things from a rotation standpoint.”

Hill said the rotation switch up has a lot to do with the fact that their final series of the season against Lamar will begin on a Thursday, giving them a short week to work with. He said he wants to make sure everyone is healthy and ready to go in a series that will likely decide where they land in the SLC Tournament bracket.

LSU will start Caleb Gilbert (3-4, 5.36), who has a connection to Lake Charles in his mother, who graduated from Barbe High School. LSU coach Paul Maineiri said Gilbert will go three innings, maybe more. Nick Storz will also get an inning for the Tigers in what will be his second appearance of the season.

Senior second baseman Joe Provenzano has emerged as the Cowboys’ top hitter as of late, batting 19 of 43 in his last 10 games to boost his batting average to .309.

The Tigers enter the game after a much-needed successful weekend against No. 6 Arkansas, winning two of three games.

McNeese has found success against LSU as of late, going 2-2 under Hill with a 5-4 win last year at Joe Miller Ballpark and a 7-0 victory in Baton Rouge in 2016. The Tigers lead the series 29-11. They are 7-4 against in-state opponents this season.

“LSU is obviously a great program,” Hill said. “It’s not the flagship in the state, but also nationally, those guys were in the College World Series final series last year … but at the same time, (McNeese) is a very hardened team. This is a team that has climbed a pretty big mountain and dug itself out of a valley. I don’t think playing there will add any pressure.”

McNeese at LSU

6:30 p.m.

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