McNeese marches on in SLC tourney

Jim Gazzolo
Special to the American Press

Picking the right time to play its best baseball, McNeese finds itself in a surprising position.

The seventh-seeded Cowboys earned their way into the final four at the Southland Conference tournament Thursday night in Hammond.

Their 3-2 victory over third-seeded and host Southeastern Louisiana means the Cowboys will have to win just one game — with two chances to get it —  to reach Saturday’s title game with a shot for the NCAA tournament bid that goes to the winner.

McNeese (30-28) needed just one swing to score all of its runs on Nate Fisbeck 3-run homer in the bottom of the third and starter Jonathan Ellison and three relievers held Southeastern to just four hits to advance.

“Both teams played really well,” said head coach Justin Hill. “Both defenses made plays, they threw out a couple of our guys, we made some big plays and struck out batters in key situations. I don’t think either of us expected a 3-2 game.”

Friday night McNeese will play the winner of Friday’s early game in their bracket between New Orleans and the Lions, which is set for noon. The Pokes’ game is scheduled for  7 p.m. in the double-elimination, double-bracket tourney.

A win in that game would send the Cowboys to the final. A loss would force another game Saturday afternoon with the winner advancing to Saturday night’s 6 p.m. championship.

McNeese joins top-seeded Abilene Christian in the semifinal round. ACU scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to beat Corpus Christi 4-2 earlier in the day.

The win was McNeese’s eighth in its last 10 games and sixth straight in SLC tournament play dating back to 2019, the last time event was held.

Ellison got the win to improve to 5-3, going five innings and giving up just three hits, with the only runs coming on a 2-run homer in the second inning.

“What a great job by Ellison pitching in the biggest game of his career,” said Hill. “They got the 2-run bomb and I was curious to see how he would respond. He was fantastic.”

The rest of the game belonged to  relievers Bryson Hudgens, Brad Kincaid and Cameron Foster, who combined  to allow just one hit over the last four innings.

“That was a fun game,” said Ellison, who threw just 88 pitches in five innings which could make him available later in the tournament if needed.  “I can’t say enough about those guys that came in after me.”

Fisbeck took Freshmen of the Year Pitcher Brennen Stuprich (6-3) out to center field on an 0-2 pitch with his ninth home run of the season to put the Cowboys head.

Fisbeck leads the conference in runs batted in with 60. He has five in the tournament so far.

Clayton Rasbeary went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks in the game. He is 4 of 6 in the tourney and reached base on seven of his nine plate appearances.

Each one of the relievers had to wiggle out of trouble.

A great defensive play by shortstop Reid Bourque saved the day in the sixth when his acrobatic stop in the hole got the final out of the inning with runners on first and second.

Kincaid followed an inning later, getting a double play on the second pitch he threw to get out of a first and second jam himself. Foster struck out Rhett Rosevear with the tying run on third in the eight.

Foster worked a perfect ninth to earn his fifth save of the season.””

The McNeese dugout erupts after Nate Fisbeck’s 3-run homer Thursday night against Southeastern Louisiana.

Randy Bergeron

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