Right on schedule
Tough foes have Cowgirls prepared for NCAA
By Jim Gazzolo
In the end James Landreneau and the Cowgirls are right on schedule.
We are not talking about a timing thing here, though playing their best softball at season’s stretch run is always a good thing as well.
No, in this case being right on schedule means the McNeese head coach has been right about the schedule he plays.
Landreneau’s Cowgirls won the seventh Southland Conference softball championship in the program’s history Saturday after entering the tournament as the third seed. With that comes a trip to the NCAA tournament as McNeese will open play in the Baton Rouge Regional starting Friday at 3 p.m. against LSU, the top seed in the region and No. 7 nationally.
The game will be televised live on ESPNU.
“There are so many things that go into making this happen but the main thing is to be able to take this championship back to our community after everything that has happened to our city this year,” said Landreneau.
Granted there are a lot of reasons McNeese rallied to win the tournament, but one can’t overlook that the Cowgirls learned how to win these tough games in rough situations thanks to a year of preparation.
That’s all part of Landreneau’s theory on scheduling.
“I want to schedule the best competition I can to get us ready for the postseason every year,” said Landreneau. “We want to get exposed early. That’s how you learn. That’s how you grow.”
It seems to have paid off.
No mid-major program takes on more top teams than the Cowgirls. They even get them to come to Lake Charles for games.
It is a process that began a few coaches ago and Landreneau has kept up the style.
This year the Cowgirls played 14 games against ranked opponents, traveling to Florida, Texas and all other points willing to take them on. A 15th game against a ranked foe was rained out.
It does hurt the overall record. McNeese will enter the tournament with a 34-24 record, but that includes a 1-13 mark against Top 25 foes.
Of the 16 teams that earned home regionals McNeese has played six of them.
Take those away and McNeese is a more splashy 33-11, good for a .750 win percentage. And playing in all those hostile environments also toughens a team’s skin.
“We have been put up against really good teams,” said senior Cori McCrary, who came back for her extra year due to COVID just to get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament.
“We play tough teams on the road all the time. We are excited with the opportunity.”
McNeese lost the season opener at LSU, 8-0, but that was a long time ago. Louisiana-Lafayette, which the Cowgirls played twice this year, falling both times, is the second seed in the regional. Those games helped McNeese run through the double-elimination conference tourney without a defeat.
It is also the reason the Cowgirls are ready for this next challenge.
“I feel this is the most prepared we have even been,” Landreneau said. “We will not be overwhelmed. If we focus on us we are pretty good.”
And thanks to a tough regular season nothing will come as a surprise, meaning heading into Friday the Cowgirls are right on schedule.
*Jim Gazzolo covers McNeese athletics and is the host of Poke Nation on CBS-Lake Charles.