By McNeese Sports Assistant Hunter Bower
LAKE CHARLES – The McNeese baseball team added one more accomplishment to its remarkable season Sunday afternoon when the Cowboys punched their ticket to the 2014 Southland Conference Tournament following a 5-3 victory over Southeastern Louisiana.
The league tournament, set to take place May 21-24 on the campus of Central Arkansas in Conway, will host the Cowboys for the 13th time in McNeese baseball history. The appearance will also be the second consecutive and third overall in the last five seasons for the Cowboys.
McNeese has seen a significant turnaround from previous seasons. The Cowboys' success has garnered the team three Southland Conference Player of the Week awards, two College Sports Madness Top SLC Players awards as well as breaking multiple school records.
Change came to the program this past summer and with that change also came immediate success.
In just his first season at the helm of the program, head coach Justin Hill has guided the Cowboys to 28 wins, the most for the program since 2010, as well as 18 league victories that ranks the most for a McNeese team since 2006.
"Our kids have battled through adversity all year long, and their resilience and character have come through every time," said McNeese head coach Justin Hill. "Our coaches are so happy for the kids to have the opportunity to play in the postseason. We still have other goals within our reach, so the next few weeks should be a lot of fun."
The McNeese Baseball record books have changed throughout the course of the season, as well.
Junior infielder Andrew Guillotte etched his name into the record books back on March 2 as he stole his 44th career base to place his name on the all-time stolen bases leaderboard. Guillotte has since moved into a tie for sixth place with 54 career stolen bags. He has a chance to take sole possession of sixth with one more steal and can tie for fifth with five more.
In Sunday's victory over Southeastern Louisiana, junior relief pitcher Tyler Erickson tied the record for most pitching appearances in a single season. Erickson is now tied with former McNeese standout pitcher and head coach Chad Clement for 31 appearances in a season and has a chance to take the record with an appearance in Thibodaux.
In addition to changes in the record books, the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission added sophomore Cameron Toole to its Johnny Bench Award Watch List. The Bench Award is presented annually to the nation's top collegiate catcher. Toole was just one of five to be added to the mid-year list and remains as one of only three Southland Conference catchers to be added.
The success on the field has translated to more interest in the McNeese baseball program. The 2014 season saw 14,189 spectators (545 avg.) attend 26 contests at Cowboy Diamond, the highest attendance numbers since the 2010 season and over 4,300 more than last season.
"This is a great group of young men to coach," said Hill. "They make coming to the ballpark fun everyday."
McNeese will look to snap a five-game losing streak in conference tournament action next weekend and is looking for its first title in seven years.
The Cowboys have two tournament crowns in 1993 and 2003, helping propel them into the NCAA Regionals.
Before it can set its eyes on postseason play, McNeese must first round out the regular season against Nicholls this coming weekend. With just three games remaining, the Cowboys look to improved their seeding for the tournament when they take on the Colonels who currently sit fourth in the league standings with 18 wins.
All-session tickets for the 2014 Southland Conference Baseball Tournament are now on sale and can be purchased in person at the Central Arkansas ticket office, by phone at 501-852-2234, and online at the university's athletics website at www.ucasports.com/tickets.
An all-tournament pass, which allows entry into all 15 possible games of the tournament, is $35 for adults and $25 for children ages 3-12. An adult single-day pass, which will include four games on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with a possibility of three games on Saturday, is $14 each day, while a single-day pass for children is $10. If Saturday features only one game, then tickets for the championship will be $9 for adults and $7 for children. Students at Southland Conference institutions will also gain free admission with a valid student ID.
There will be a minimum of 13 games played during the four-day tournament. Game times the first three days of the tournament are 9 a.m., noon, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. A minimum of one game and up to three games could be played on championship Saturday.