Big presence: Dion has trust of Cowboys skipper

Jim Gazzolo, Special to the American Press

While standing off the mound Will Dion doesn’t look all that imposing.

His listing of 5-foot, 10-inches tall seems like even that could be a stretch. However, on the hill Dion has become a very imposing figure.

The redshirt sophomore left-hander out of Sulphur has become every bit the ace of the McNeese State pitching staff. Wednesday he will take the mound in Hammond trying to keep the Cowboys rolling in the opener of the Southland Conference tournament.

“That’s our guy,” MSU head coach Justin Hill said of Dion. “I would not feel good going with anybody else. We will let him go as far as he can.”

Dion with take an 8-4 record into the postseason with a 3.05 earned run average. He is also riding a 5-game win streak and has allowed just one earned run over his last 20 innings.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Dion, who will be going on short rest having last thrown a complete game last Friday.

“I don’t think that will be a problem. We have been getting ready for this since the fall. I will be ready and an really excited and looking forward to it.”

Dion found out Monday that he was named Pitcher of the Year in the Southland Conference.

“That is a great honor but I’m not one big on awards and accolades,” said Dion. “I just want to help us win games and set us up right in this tournament. I want us to go 1-0. It’s hard to go through the losers’ bracket and win.”

Dion started the year strong. In his second outing he went the distance and tied a school record of 19 strikeouts in a win over Prairie View.

In the conference, he as been just as strong, picking up seven wins and posting a 2.25 ERA. During his win streak Dion has been even better, striking out 32 and walking just four while posting a 1.38 ERA.

That made the decision to start the left-hander an easy one for Hill.

“Got to ride the hot hand,” Hill said. “I could have gone a lot of different ways, but I would not have felt right if I went in any other direction to start.”

The goal for the Cowboys is defend the title they won in 2019 and get back to the NCAA playoffs. There was no Southland tournament last year.

“I want to set the tone,” said Dion. “We are all pitching better and playing better. It is an honor to start the first game of the tournament, but we have a lot of guys we can count on.”

Dion already has experience against New Orleans. He beat the Privateers back on May 1, claiming an 8-3 decision at Joe Miller Ballpark. He went six-plus innings, allowing just a run until he admittedly tired in the seventh. Now the stakes will be much higher.

As a freshman back in 2019 Dion was 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA and named a freshman All-American by Baseball America. In last year’s shortened season, he struggled going 2-2 with a 5.23 ERA before the season was shut down.

Dion tops a pitching staff that has led a Mc-Neese resurgence as the Cowboys have won six of their last eight games just to earn a spot in the conference tourney.

“I think our pitching has been the most consistent part of our game all year,” said Hill. “We have been playing and pitching pretty well lately, playing good ball.”

As a group the pitchers know their job this week. Numbers don’t matter, getting big outs and getting the defense off the field hold the key to winning in a tournament.

“Everybody understands their role,” said Dion. “As a pitcher your job is to get in and get out quickly. Get the job done fast so our guys can go back in and hit.”

With the growth of Cameron Foster in the bullpen, McNeese is armed for a solid postseason run.

“Cameron has been good,” said Hill. “The fact that he is not a one-inning guy and can finish a game is a plus.”

But first it is up to Dion to get it all started.

“It’s important we start strong,” Dion said.

Strong starts is what Dion does best.

””

McNeese’s Will Dion pitches against Incarnate Word during a double header at Cowboy Diamond April 10. Dion will start on the mound Wednesday in the Cowboys’ SLC tournament opener.

Kirk Meche / Special to the American Press

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