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May 22, 2023 01:12PM ● By Jim Gazzolo

By Jim Gazzolo

Not all great fairy tales end happily ever after.

Sometimes the glass slipper doesn’t fit, or the handsome prince’s kiss can’t awaken Sleeping Beauty. 

And sometimes a frog ends up just being a frog, warts and all.

For 13 innings Sunday in the Pacific Northwest, the Cowgirls were living their dream. It’s one all small-school softball teams live out in their sleep.

They were about to slay a giant.  

The Cowgirls led by a half dozen, were three outs from history and had all the momentum in the world on their side.

Everybody who ever rooted for the underdog was pulling for McNeese State. Even fans in Lafayette were on their side, for a McNeese win would mean the Cajuns would be hosting them in the Super Regional.

It was a great story with just one last chapter to write. 

Then, a season of work, of hope, of making the improbable possible, it all slipped away.

During a 28-minute half inning that felt like a month in a torture chamber for McNeese fans, Washington scored seven times to turn the Cowgirls’ greatest moment into their biggest heartbreak. 

This one is going to sting for some time.

The top of the seventh in Seattle will go down as the greatest comeback in regional history for the purple fans of No. 7 Washington.

In Lake Charles it will be remembered as the half hour of hell.

“Never been a part of anything like it,” McNeese head coach James Landreneau said. 

Landreneau has worked seven seasons to get his program to this moment only to watch it all flush away during a furious Husky comeback.

On three separate occasions the Cowgirls were an out away, even a strike away, from making their first Super Regional. 

It would have been the next big step for a program that is the shining star of an athletic program that has suffered through tough times over the past few years.

A small school like McNeese isn’t supposed to rattle the cages of a top program like Washington. It isn’t supposed to push the seventh-best team in the country to the brink of elimination by dominating them on regional championship Sunday.

That’s only for big schools with huge NIL deals from monster conferences, not one that had to dig itself out of the destruction of two hurricanes just three summers ago. 

Programs like McNeese are supposed to be happy with earning a postseason invitation, thank everyone for coming and go back home happy with their participation trophy.

But this program and these players don’t play that game. They not only expect to be in these situations they believe they will win their share.

“Maybe our brand doesn’t carry nationally, but our kids sure believe,” Landreneau said.

And these Cowgirls were closer than every McNeese team that came before them. They even could have won it in the fifth, when one more hit would have sent Washington to defeat by way of the run rule. 

That’s how good McNeese was playing. That’s how big the program has become.

That is why this ending is so tough to take. A 7-6 loss in the regional championship game is no longer a big pat on the back. 

This one was a swift kick to the stomach.

That’s what happens when you have raised expectations, when you show the softball world just how good you can be and then let it slip away.

Moments from a glorious flight home to face a rival, the Cowgirls had to suffer a long trip with time to reflect on just what might have been.

They were so close, had played so well, and yet were once again far away from their dream.

Give the Huskies credit, they didn’t quit. They fought like champs do.

But on this Sunday that was the sidebar. The real story was about little McNeese and what it has become. 

It’s just heartbreaking that in this fairy tale, Washington rewrote the ending.

And it will be one poison apple that is hard to swallow.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese athletics. He is also the host of Poke Nation on CBS-Lake Charles