Southland champs: Cowboys clinch regular-season title
The long wait is over for the McNeese State Cowboys.
With a 10-2 drubbing of Lamar at Joe Miller Ballpark Thursday night, McNeese wrapped up its first Southland Conference regular-season title since 2006.
“There really aren’t words,” McNeese head coach Justin Hill said. “There were some other opportunities we had, maybe the Corpus series.
“It always turns out the way it is supposed to. This is great. To do it in front of fans, to do it right here where we work so much was sweat. A lot has gone into this.”
McNeese (35-17, 21-7 SLC) entered the three-game series needing two wins to secure the title but got help from Stephen F. Austin which knocked off Houston Baptist 4-0.
“This is what you work for every year, to get to the top,” said Cowboys third baseman Matt Gallier. “We got here and we are going to keep on rolling.
“We wanted to get in and get out. We still have Game 2 on our mind and we are going to come in and get the W and try to take all three in the end.”
The series will continue at 6 p.m. today followed by the third game 3 p.m. Saturday.
Not only did the Cowboys win the conference title, they also locked up the No. 1 seed in the SLC tournament next week at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas.
“You don’t know when it is going to be or if it is going to be,” Hill said. “All the tiebreaker scenarios were working against us. We did it and our kids were great.”
But the game didn’t start with fireworks for the Cowboys.
Lamar’s Grant Devore led off with a grounder that at first glance looked to be foul, but after taking a big bounce over third base it stayed fair and turned it into a double. With two outs, Bryndan Arredondo sent one high over the left-field wall for a 2-0 lead.
McNeese senior southpaw Austin Sanders didn’t flinch and allowed four baserunners over the next six innings. Sanders (7-2) struck out four and walked three over seven innings while allowing two runs on four hits.
“There was some tension and everyone knew what was at stake,” Hill said. “You can’t really prepare for that and trust in what you have been doing.
“They hit the two-run homer, but there is probably not a better pitcher to be in there to be able to handle the moment.”
Sanders was saved by his defense in the top of the sixth inning. After Robin Adames got a base on balls and Arredondo’s single to right field, the Cowboy turned a 6-4-3 double play to get out of the jam.
McNeese tied the score at 2-2 on Shane Selman’s two-run single in the bottom half of the inning, but then the Cowboys went quiet.
McNeese woke up in the bottom of the sixth inning with three runs on four hits and forcing the Cardinals (32-22, 15-13) to twice change pitchers.
Mitchell Rogers led off with a single to left field and came around to score a single up the middle by Ricky Ramirez for the Cowboys’ first lead of the game. Brett Brown walked Gallier to load the bases and Joe Provenzano and Selman hit back-to-back RBI singles to put the Cowboys up 5-2.
“We got the big hit and it became a normal baseball game,” Hill said. “Our guys kept battling and we got the big hit and kept hitting.”
The hit parade continued in the seventh inning with Gallier’s three-run triple after center fielder Vincent Dellocono lost the ball in the lights. Provenzano added an RBI double and Dustin Duhon hit an RBI single.
Aidan Anderson relieved Sanders in the top of the eight and pitched two shutout innings with four strikeouts, a walk and one hit.
McNeese racked up 15 hits with Selman leading the way with a 3-for-5 performance and three RBIs. Robbie Podorsky went 2-for-4 with two runs and a triple plus his 38th stolen base of the season, adding to his single-season school record. Provenzano finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
Carson Lance took the loss after allowing five runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Cowobys #21 gets a high five after scoring by Matt Gallier in the bottom of the 6th