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McNeese baseball has big shoes to fill in 2022

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 11:33 PM CST
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - The defending Southland Conference baseball champions, the McNeese Cowboys, have plenty of reasons to be excited about the upcoming season. McNeese has won the last two SLC tournaments making back-to-back NCAA Tournament trips for the first time in program history.

The Pokes also return the likes of all-conference players Tré Obregon III and Payton Harden.

However, this season will be a year of unknowns for the Cowboys as the team welcomes in a host of schools to ‘The Jeaux’ in the non-conference slate, some of which (Columbia and Eastern Illinois) they’ve never played before. In addition, McNeese sees the addition of 15 new players via their signing class.

McNeese coach Justin Hill, who is entering his ninth season in Lake Charles, appreciates this offseason having little drama in comparison to the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

“Just the fact of being able to go through a fall, and to go through it, it’s just one of those things I sit there and think about it, how thankful you are for a group of players that decided to come back after a championship season,” said head coach Justin Hill. “I’m just really grateful just to have made it back to this point back to be able to talk about baseball is really a great place to be.”

While the Pokes return some All-SLC talent, the core of the Pokes’ two runs to the NCAA Tourney is gone in All-Louisiana performers Will Dion, Clayton Rasbeary and Nate Fisbeck.

While Dion’s presence at the top of the rotation will be missed after being drafted by the Cleveland Guardians, replacing Rasbeary and Fisbeck in the lineup may be a tougher ask. The duo was responsible for nearly a third of the team’s RBI total since 2019.

In 2021, Rasbeary led the Cowboys in nearly all offensive categories including hitting (.353), home runs (12), doubles (19), triples (5), total hits (88), slugging percentage (.614) and on-base percentage (.417).

“There’s obviously a void over there in right field,” said Hill. “You just saw a great fight all fall between Cooper Hext, Braden Duhon and Nate Collins. All bring a different skill set to what they do.

Meanwhile, Fisbeck hit .302 last season while leading the Southland Conference with 63 RBIs. He finished second on the team with nine home runs and added 17 doubles and two triples.

“[Second base has] been mainly newcomers, that are transfers that came in, whether it be Josh Leslie, Brad Burkel or Antonio Gauthier. Jordan Yeatts has had some time and floated around with us a little bit. He’s a returner.”

McNeese will have plenty of time to develop those replacements in the middle of the order at home with an all-time high of 35 scheduled home games. That includes 2012 College World Series participant Stony Brook, who McNeese will begin the 2022 season against on Friday, February 18.

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