LAKE CHARLES – It’s been a magical 2017 season so far for the McNeese Cowboys’ baseball squad – out to one of its best starts in school history at 26-9 while posting its best Southland Conference start in history at 16-2 while standing alone in first place atop the standings.
Another first came on Monday when the Cowboys cracked a top 25 national baseball poll for the first time in school history with their No. 23 ranking in the Collegiate Baseball poll.
It’s just the second time McNeese has ever been ranked in a Top 30 poll. Back in March of 1994, the Cowboys received their first-ever Top 30 national ranking, that being at No. 30, in the same Collegiate Baseball poll. That team went on to set a school record with 41 wins in what was then-head coach Tony Robichaux’s last season with the Cowboys.
Following this weekend’s Southland Conference sweep over New Orleans, McNeese jumped to No. 15 in the NCAA RPI poll, the highest-ever ranking. The sweep also gave the Cowboys’ a program first – the first time to sweep five conference series in a season.
“It’s exciting,” said head coach Justin Hill of the team’s success. “Our guys have set out to get better every day. I think the message here is don’t look up. Do all the things we’ve done to get into this position and keep working.”
The Cowboys received 22 votes in this week’s USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 poll, ranking as the fifth-highest among the teams in the others receiving votes section.
On Tuesday, McNeese will put that first national ranking to the test when it visits Louisiana Tech, a team that was ranked earlier in the season.
This will be the first of eight straight games away from home for McNeese.
“I think with the road schedule we’ve played away from home, anytime you can go .500 on the road, that’s pretty good,” said Hill. “Obviously being a mid-major, you’re going to have to play a lot more road games than some of the Power 5 schools. In the middle of the week, you have to travel a little bit, but it also goes to it being part of the gig. We knew when we set the schedule these eight games were coming. Our guys have done a really good job of putting us in a really good position to be right here.
“The goal, necessarily, isn’t to win every game but to get better every game. This is going to be a fun stretch starting Tuesday in Ruston. They’re (Louisiana Tech) playing well. Then we’re going to Natchitoches. They (NSU) got a big win on Saturday against Southeastern.”
McNeese will then visit Louisiana-Lafayette on April 25 before closing out the road trek at Sam Houston State April 28-30.
Tuesday’s game against Tech will be the second meeting of the season between the two schools. McNeese won the first matchup, 5-3, in Lake Charles back on April 5. In that game, McNeese gave up all three runs to the Bulldogs in the first inning then blanked them the next eight innings as six bullpen pitchers combined to allow just two hits an no runs the rest of the way.
Zach Rider, who was the first out of the pen in that game, is expected to get the start on the mound on Tuesday. The Kinder native will be making his third start of the season and will carry a 1-0 record and a 3.48 ERA into the contest.
Offensively, the Cowboys continue to lead the Southland Conference in hitting with a .315 batting average, a mark that ranks them No. 15 in the nation.
Third baseman Matt Gallier is one of six starters hitting .300 or above and leads the team with a .383 average along with nine home runs. His 33 runs batted in are ranked second on the team, two behind leader Joe Provenzano who is hitting .377 with five homers and 35 RBI.
Gallier went 3-for-4 with a home run against Tech earlier in the season.
Louisiana Tech will enter Tuesday’s game 23-13 on the season and coming off a Conference-USA series win against Old Dominion.
Oregon State tops the Collegiate Baseball Top 30 poll while Arizona (No. 9) and LSU (No. 12) are two McNeese opponents also ranked. McNeese and LSU are the only schools from Louisiana ranked in the poll.
COLLEGIATE BASEBALL POLL
1. Oregon State (30-2)
2. Louisville (31-4)
3. TCU (28-7)
4. North Carolina (29-7)
5. Clemson (30-6)
6. Texas Tech (31-8)
7. Arizona (26-9)
8. Cal St. Fullerton (23-11)
9. Arkansas (29-8)
10. Auburn (27-11)
11. Kentucky (25-12)
12. LSU (25-12)
13. St. John’s (26-5)
14. Mississippi State (25-13)
15. Virginia (29-9)
16. Florida (24-12)
17. Wake Forest (28-10)
18. Maryland (24-11)
19. San Diego (25-9)
20. Michigan (29-7)
21. South Carolina (22-13)
22. Southern Mississippi (28-9)
23. McNeese (26-9)
24. Long Beach State (22-12)
25. West Virginia (21-13)
26. Tennessee Tech (29-9)
27. Vanderbilt (22-15)
28. Oregon (23-10)
29. Coastal Carolina (22-13-1)
30. Washington (20-14)