A week after writing a column in which I was a bit harsh with words about the McNeese State baseball team’s inability to put things together, the Cowboys went and made me look like a TV psychic with a week in which the bats came alive, they got solid pitching when necessary and they won four consecutive games for their troubles.
- Cowboys need to look at themselves
It’s not the first time I’ve been wrong in the assessment of a team, and it certainly won’t be the last, but regardless of my opinions, the Cowboys enter their weekend series against Northwestern State with as much momentum as they’ve had all year on both sides of the ball.
For starters, the lineup has begun to swing the bat with confidence and poise, putting together big inning after big inning. In three of its last five games, McNeese has hung seven runs in one inning, and head coach Justin Hill said the Cowboys need more big innings like that if they want to continue this success.
There’s an old baseball adage that says hitting is contagious. With every successful at-bat, the Cowboys seem to get more and more comfortable and confident at the plate, and their hard work is finally starting to pay off in games.
All three of those big innings came in situations in which the Cowboys, trailed as well, showing some grit they didn’t necessarily lack early in the season, but that didn’t necessarily translate into success.
“They’ve worked hard all season, even when we sucked,” Hill said. “That’s the thing, though. When you go through a tough time, you really find out who you are. You really find out what you believe in.”
Hill added that it’s not the way the Cowboys prepare that has changed, but their mental state.
“We actually probably do less now because we’re in the stretch run of things with four conference series left,” Hill said. “We have to make sure the guys are fresh. We’re not putting in any new plays. The only thing that’s different is our mind-set.”
The pitching has looked better, too. Grant Anderson has settled nicely into his role as the Friday starter on the mound, and he’s improved on a weekly basis.
Hill has spoken at length all season about needing an extra inning from his pitching staff, especially the bullpen. And he’s starting to get those innings when needed.
In Tuesday’s 11-8 victory against Houston Baptist, Chris Campbell entered the game more than an inning earlier than he expected after a shaky appearance by Austin Briggs.
He ended up going 21⁄3 shutout innings in which he gave up three hits and struck out four.
That was backed up with Peyton McLemore doing exactly what he was brought into the game to do — pitch three shutout, no-hit innings with seven strikeouts.
The bullpen is starting to take shape, and Aidan Anderson has begun to establish himself as a solid closer. The junior who started the season as a starter has five saves under his belt.
Before the season started, Hill said he wouldn’t know what the Cowboys were capable of until they faced adversity.
After losing two of their first 11 games, experimenting with the lineup, rotation and bullpen deep into the season, and playing in games ranging from pitchers’ duels to slugfests, Hill said he now has a sense of what kind of team the Cowboys can be.
“We faced adversity,” he said. “You’re not going to throw anything at our team that they haven’t seen. We can win a slugfest, we can when a 1-0 or 2-1 ballgame. We’ve done that without the starter getting going. There’s all kinds of ways we’ve shown we can win a game. That’s what a championship team does.”
It’s clearly too early to say this team will cruise through the remainder of Southland Conference play, but the Cowboys sit in good position, a tie for second place in the league standings with Southeastern Louisiana with four series remaining.
If they can continue to play the way they did this past week, they have an opportunity to put themselves in a solid position for a run in the SLC Tournament.