LAKE CHARLES—McNeese softball made Southland Conference Tournament history Friday by becoming the first team to win three consecutive Southland Conference Tournament titles after defeating Nicholls 4-2 to earn the Southland's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm excited for my kids right now," said McNeese head coach James Landreneau. "Words will never describe how proud I am of the staying the course. Our girls never wavered, they just kept coming to practice even when things didn't go like we wanted them to during the season. They kept on believing in each other and for me to be able to coach these young ladies with that much character and determination is fun to be apart of. I feel very blessed to be able to coach a fine group of ladies," Landreneau said.
McNeese (40-19) will hold a NCAA Selection Show watch party scheduled for 9 p.m. (CT), Sunday night, May 13 on ESPN2 in the team meeting room at the Jack Doland Field House. Fans are invited to join the Cowgirls, as they will find out their NCAA postseason destination.
"We were playing for something bigger than just a championship, we were playing for growth, life beyond softball, and all the people that have ever represented this university and we wanted to make them proud. To be able to step on the field with these ladies and see how competitive they are and to play through adversity and come from behind wins all season long when people are writing them off has been fun to be apart of," said Landreneau.
Just like in Thursday's game against Nicholls (40-15), McNeese took an early 1-0 lead in the first inning when McNeese took advantage of a Nicholls error that allowed Erika Piancastelli to score.
The Colonels tied the game with a solo home run in the third inning on Samantha Dares' second home run of the season. Nicholls took a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning with their second home run of the game, this one coming from designated player Kali Clement.
The lead would hold and Nicholls' starting pitcher and the Southland's Pitcher of the Year Megan Landry's no-hitter would end in the top of the seventh inning when the Cowgirls put up three runs on four hits to take a 4-2 lead that would hold up for the McNeese win.
"Megan Landry pitched her tail off, that kid was competing and spinning the ball all over the place. Nicholls is a great team that is well coach and they fight hard." Landreneau said.
Four-time Southland Conference Player and Hitter of the year, Piancastelli battled at the plate and connected on a Landry pitch, sending it deep over the left field wall for her McNeese season record tying 22nd home run to tie the game at two apiece. The home run also broke up Landry's no-hitter. Landry would be replaced by Alexis LaBure. LaBure walked the first batter she faced, Morgan Catron, the tournament's MVP. Pinch runner Toni Perrin moved into scoring position on a ground out to short then stole third. McNeese executed a squeeze bunt by Aubree Turbeville that scored Perrin for the 3-2 lead.
"Erika got us going, Turbeville put down that squeeze and that was clutch for us at that point in the game."
After a walk to Tayler Strother, Lauren Brown singled to first to advance Strother to third. Strother would later score on a single to second for the 4-2 lead.
Nicholls had one last chance in the bottom of the seventh as they served as the home team.
Alexsandra Flores took the circle in the bottom of the seventh inning in place of starter Caroline Settle, who left the game after giving up two runs on six hits and three strikeouts.
Flores came in the game and struck out the side, getting Clement, Dares, and pinch hitter Julia Bailey to go down swinging to end the game.
"Caroline Settle pitched a great game, they got two good swings on her but other than that she was able to keep them off balance. Her last three outings have been good, she has had those outing before so we know she is capable, there is never a doubt.
"Alex Flores pitched two great games. She comes in the game in the bottom of the seventh and strikes out the side. That kid loves to compete and wants to be in the circle," said Landreneau.
Settle improved to 10-6 with the win and Flores picked up her second save of the season. Piancastelli, Flores, and Alexandria Saldivar were all named to the all-tournament team.
Other members of the all-tournament team included Nicholls' Landry, Moriah Strother, Kasey Frederick, and Amanda Gianelloni. Southeastern Louisiana's Mahalia Gibson and Maddie Edmonston, and Sam Houston State's Lindsey McLeod and Codi Carpenter.