McNeese stays alive in tourney

Published 3:29 pm Thursday, May 25, 2023

With their season on the line, the Cowboys turned to their former ace and current redemption project.

And Bryson Hudgens delivered.

In just his fifth start since coming back from Tommy John surgery, the senior right-hander lived out his dream.

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Hudgens threw six innings of shutout ball as McNeese State knocked Incarnate Word out of the Southland Conference Tournament Thursday at Joe Miller Ballpark.

The 3-0 victory keeps the Pokes’ hopes alive as they host the double-elimination event.

“This is everything I dreamed it would be,” said Hudgens who scatted five hits and struck out two while walking nobody.

“This is something I have been dreaming about for a long time. I wanted to be here in this spot.”

Hudgens (1-0) was hoping to throw four innings, but the extra two gave a tired McNeese bullpen to get some much-needed rest.

“Bryan’s effort was amazing,” said McNeese head coach Justin Hill, who picked up career win No. 301, all as a Cowboy. “He gave us everything he had and we played really good defense behind him.”

McNeese turned two double plays and center fielder Payton Harden threw out Nicholls runner Cameron Crotte who was trying to score from third on a fly ball. Harden got help from catcher Schuyler Thibodaux, who made a diving tag just before Cortte’s hand touched home.

Hudgens was followed by Brock Barthelemy, who gave up two hits over the last three innings to earn his third save.

“I was going to finish it,” said Barthelemy. “No way I wasn’t finishing this game.”

McNeese (35-22) moves on to play the loser of the Thursday’s late game between Northwestern State and New Orleans. That will be played Friday at 2:30 p.m.

A win in that game and the Pokes will play a second game that day at 6 p.m.

“We want it bad,” said Barthelemy. “We are not going to lose on our field again.”

The Cowboys scored all their runs in the third with Josh Leslie driving in a pair with a double just inside the bag at third.

For Leslie it was his 25th double of the season and his 54th and 55th runs batted in.

The victory came just hours after the Pokes lost a heartbreaking 3-2 game to top-seeded Nicholls that didn’t end until 12:02 a.m. earlier Thursday that forced them into the losers’ bracket.

“I’m proud of how they bounced back from that,” said McNeese head coach Justin Hill. “It showed a lot of grit and a really good mindset.”

UIW starter Micah Berens (2-5) took the loss. The Cardinals finished their season 28-26.

The win was the Pokes 14th in their last 17 SLC postseason games. Still, sixth-seeded McNeese accepts its Cinderella role this week.

“I like it,” said Hill. “She is my favorite princess.”

It’s just a matter now if the glass slipper will still fit over the next two days and send the Cowboys to their third NCAA regional in four years.

That would be a true fairy tale ending.