Cowboys story keeps on growing
by Jim Gazzolo
It is college sports’ best kept secret, a story few really know but many should.
The McNeese State baseball team, a group of 45 players, a few more coaches and staff, have suffered through a year of unprecedented problems and somehow never gave up.
They had come back in 2020 after making the NCAA tournament the season before with the highest of hopes. But their season, along with everybody else’s, was stopped before it ever really got going.
So they all came back, added a few more pieces, and were ready for 2021. But they never could get out of 2020 it seemed.
Before getting back into the swing of things Hurricane Laura wiped them out. Then came Hurricane Delta. While the rest of college baseball was getting ready for the spring, McNeese players were helping families in need clean up their homes and yards.
When they were able to practice they had to work out at seven different high school fields. Players slept on teammates floors and couches. Food was hard to find. Still they stayed.
Just as their season was ready to start, a history winter storm hit town, freezing their hopes once again. Then, just before they were to go on their final road trip of the regular season and clinch a playoff spot, a historic flood.
History has not been kind to the Cowboys.
“I don’t think any team of any sport has had to go through what we have gone through,” said head coach Justin Hill. “It has not been a normal season by any means.”
Yet here they are, all of them, still playing. They had been picked for second in the Southland Conference but finished seventh during a crazy season of ups and downs.
“We were always a pretty good team, we just could not find our rhythm,” said outfield Julian Gonzales. “Our best baseball is ahead of us.”
Gonzales said that three weeks ago, when the Cowboys didn’t know yet if they would even make the postseason Southland Conference tournament. They won six of their final eight in the regular season to finish seventh and earn a spot.
“If we get in anything can happen,” said Hill.
So far it has. The Cowboys have caught fire and caught the attention of a good portion of the nation.
They head to the Fort Worth Regional to open NCAA tournament play Friday against the hot Horned Frogs. It will not be an easy road ahead, then again the one they have just traveled over has been no picnic.
Hurricanes, floods and a deep freeze have this team battle tested.
“We just want to have people talk about McNeese, to know the story of the town,” said outfielder Julian Gonzales. “We want people to know what has happened down here.”
That seems important to the Cowboys. They are not doing this all for themselves, but for the town they call home.
It’s quite a story, one that doesn’t have a final chapter written just yet.
*Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics and is the host of Poke Nation on CBS-Lake Charles.