Last Modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 11:35 PMMcNeese came into the final weekend of the regular season hoping it wouldn’t have to be a scoreboard watcher.
Now the Cowboys have no choice.
Thursday night’s 7-6 loss to Southeastern Louisiana, combined with Nicholls State’s 3-1 win at Lamar, puts McNeese on the outside of the Southland Conference tourney field looking in with two games left to play. McNeese and Nicholls are tied for the eighth and final tournament position with the Colonels holding the tiebreaker.
“Our backs are against the walls,” said McNeese coach Terry Burrows. “It’s not over. We’ve got to come back and play hard again tomorrow. These kids played hard today and fought to the end. We put ourselves in good position and just couldn’t get it done.”
The game ended with SLU closer Mason Klotz getting Cowboys cleanup hitter Jackson Gooch to pop out to shallow right-center with the tying run at second base.
“He went with four sliders in a row and I was hoping he was going to hang one. That’s my strongest pitch to hit,” Gooch said. “He was keeping away. Then he came in with a fastball that kind of cuffed me.”
Gooch, who went 3-for-5, was the man the Cowboys (22-28, 9-16 Southland) wanted at the plate as they tried to rally in the bottom of the ninth. The threat started with a one-out double by pinch-hitter Billy Sommers that was followed by two-out Chayse Marion and Michael Sullivan singles.
“I’m very frustrated right now,” Gooch said. “I had a chance to do the same thing at Oral Roberts and got it done (last) Friday night. I overswung a little there and it cost us the game.”
McNeese’s comeback attempt was made necessary by a five-run SLU (32-21, 15-10) rally in the sixth.
A leadoff walk was the careless ember that sparked a wildfire for the Lions. Blake Ware’s free pass to Harry Slade opened an inning that did not end until the Lions plated five to take a 6-3 lead.
SLU also cashed in a leadoff walk in the first.
“Leadoff walks killed us,” Burrows said.
McNeese answered the Lions’ rally with one of their own in the bottom of the sixth but could not finish the job.
Things looked promising when Lions pitcher Sean Kennel threw a Connor Lloyd bunt attempt over his first baseman’s head, allowing Gooch to score and giving the Cowboys runners at second and third with nobody out.
McNeese could only get one of those runners home, unable to get a ball out of the infield against SLU reliever Dylan Hills.
Hans Ask was induced into a bouncer to third that advanced no one for the first out.
An infield fielder’s choice by Tyler Klouser scored Lucas Quary to cut the deficit to 6-5.
SLU preserved the lead when Hills cleanly fielded a Cameron Toole bunt and tossed the ball to catcher Sam Roberson, who tagged out a sliding Lloyd at the plate for the second out. Hills struck out Andrew Guillotte to end the inning.
The Lions added a needed insurance run on a two-out Aaron Haag single in the seventh.
The game got off to a promising start for McNeese, which answered SLU’s lone first-inning run with a three-spot against Lions starter Andro Cutura in the bottom of the first. Cutura left with an injury after 1/3 inning, and Kennel (5-3) ended up earning the win with five innings work out of the bullpen.
Ware (5-6) took the loss, allowing seven runs on 12 hits in 6 2/3 innings.
“He’s done a tremendous job for us all year,” Burrows said “Hopefully we can get it to where he gets the ball again this year.”