Closing the deal, Dion saves McNeese in opener

Jim Gazzolo, Special to the American Press

Will Dion went from opener to closer in the space of a week.

After starting every Friday night this year, Dion found a new role Friday night.

The McNeese State ace lefty was asked not to start the Southland Conference series opener against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but rather close it.

The Sulphur product did just that, cleaning up a mess in the eighth and then working a less-than perfect ninth as McNeese knocked off the Islanders 4-2 at Joe Miller Ballpark to end a three-game losing streak.

The Islanders (4-9, 0-1 SLC) lost their eighth in a row.

Two weeks after striking out a school-record 19 in a complete game win, Dion was asked to get six important outs. The move was fueled by McNeese’s recent troubles in the bullpen.

“We have lost some games late recently, and our bullpen has had some issues,” Cowboys head coach Justin Hill said. “This shores some things up down there.”

After a leadoff double by Leo Markotic in the eighth, Hill set his new plan in motion and called on Dion, who struck out the side to preserve a 3-1 lead. The sophomore was touched for a solo home run by Luke Marbach in the ninth for the final run.

“I have to get used to it again,” Dion said of closing, which he did in 2019. “You have to be ready to go right away. You have to have your stuff right when you come in.

“It takes me longer to get ready. I’m not 18 any more.”

No, Dion is all of 20 now.

McNeese (6-6, 1-0) tried to make Dion’s ninth inning real easy by loading the bases to start its half of the eighth. However, a diving catch by Tristan Welch in center field turned a would-be three runs into a Brett Wheaton sacrifice fly RBI.

Christian Vega got his first start for the Cowboys and struggled his way into the fifth inning. He got out of trouble in each of the first four but was touched for a run in the fifth while getting one out.

Brad Kincaid came in and got out of any further trouble and pick up the win, his first without a loss. Kincaid struck out six in 2 2/3.

Vega was in and out of danger his entire start. Ten of the 21 batters he faced reached base with seven of getting into scoring position. But the righty was able to always get the big out when he needed it.

In the fourth a nifty 6-4-3 double play killed an Islanders rally. But a hit batsman, single and his own error chased Vega in the fifth.

“Christian created his own mess,” Hill said. “I don’t think you saw the best of Christian tonight.”

McNeese scored twice in the fourth on one hit and a lot of help. The hit was an RBI double off the bat of Jake Dickerson that split the gab in right-center and scored Tré Obregon (2-for-4) all the way from first without a throw home.

Dickerson’s hit was surrounded by a pair of errors. He would later score on Whelton’s grounder to short, which chased Corpus Christi starter John Gaddis (0-1). The lefty wasn’t helped by either his own fielding or those behind him. He had an error and three wild pitches.

McNeese scored the game’s first run in the opening frame. Payton Hayden singled, went to second on wild pitch, third on a ground out and scored on a second wild pitch of the inning by Gaddis.

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Notes: The game was the first back for Hill, who missed 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19. The Cowboys were 1-3 without him. … McNeese added a game to its schedule. The Cowboys will host LSU-Alexanderia at 6 p.m. Monday.McNeese State’s Payton Harden slides in for the score after a passed ball as Texas A&M-Corpus Christi starting pitcher John Gaddis tries to field the throw during a Southland Conference game Friday at Joe Miller Ballpark.

Rick Hickman / American Press

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