Eye-opening victory: An article by Jim Gazzolo
By Jim Gazzolo
The Southland Conference is not a two-bid league in softball.
What James Landreneau hopes to do is make McNeese State a two-bid program.
The Cowgirls skipper has worked over the years to turn his team into one that can actually earn a second bid despite the conference it plays it.
Give the league credit for some schools are investing more into their softball programs, but there is still a lot of catching up to do.
Not so much for Landreneau’s team. If the Cowgirls didn’t announce their arrival on the national softball scene last spring with their run to an NCAA regional final, they have now.
Last Sunday the Cowgirls knocked off the No. 22 team in the nation in North Texas. They followed that up less than 24 hours later with an encore performance against the No. 12 team in the land, knocking off Washington out of the softball-rich Pac-12 Conference. Oddly, the Huskies came into the game ranked 12th but moved up to No. 9 in the poll that was released during Monday’s game.
So it could be said the Cowgirls beat a Top-10 team.
The 3-2 victory was a perfect display on how good teams win big games. Solid pitching, good fielding, using speed to score runs and force mistakes and yes, one long home run blast off the bat of Jil Poullard.
Over a five-game span little McNeese State from the Southland played three teams in the top 25 and won twice.
But alas, nothing lasts forever. A day after beating Washington, which actually moved up to ninth in the country when the latest weekly poll was released during the game, South Alabama came to Lake Charles and beat McNeese 3-0.
So there is still work to be done for the now 8-3 Cowgirls.
Still, a program gets noticed by big wins more than tough losses.
“We look forward to these opportunities,” said Landreneau. “Our kids responded. We talked about the mountain. It isn’t easy.”
Landreneau has never been one to shy away from playing good teams or high-profile programs. He wants to know early what kind of a team he has.
This year he seems to have a strong-willed, talented crew that has earned its scares over past seasons of playing big-time foes in tough environments. They have learned from previous battles.
But Landreneau is also quick to say McNeese needs to win its share of such games and not be satisfied just playing in them.
Two straight victories over ranked clubs is a pretty fair share. And Washington’s only other loss this season has been 5-4 to top ranked Oklahoma.
The Cowgirls are keeping good company these days.
“We love being in these fights,” said Landreneau. “Our kids just love it.”
And so do the McNeese fans, who showed up for the holiday morning game with Washington with all the energy of a Mardi Gras parade.
“This is big to play and win this kind of game against a top team like Washington at home in front of our fans,” said Landreneau.
This is all coming off an impressive run of last spring when the Cowgirls beat Notre Dame twice in the NCAA regional before falling to host Northwestern in the title round.
That was the calling card for what was hoped, and is starting out as, a very promising 2023 campaign.
There is still a lot of softball left to play and more ranked opponents to battle. That seems just fine with the Cowgirls. They like these types of challenges.
While nobody knows if this will impress the NCAA committee come May or not. The Cowgirls don’t plan on leaving that in their hands anyway as they look to take care of their own invitation by winning the Southland.
But don’t think for a moment this won’t be noticed by the rest of the softball community.
If they didn’t already know it they do now, the Cowgirls have arrived and aren’t looking to leave anytime soon.
Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics. He is also the host of Poke Nation on CBS-Lake Charles.