Friday, June 21, 2024

College baseball: NSU falls to McNeese in SLC Tournament opener

by Russell Hedges
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By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations; featured photo by Sam Conners, Southeastern Athletics

HAMMOND – At the time of year that requires teams to play their cleanest baseball, the Northwestern State baseball team was neither clean nor complementary.

The Demons committed a trio of errors Wednesday morning in their opening game of the Southland Conference Tournament and watched fifth-seeded McNeese turn those into six unearned runs in a 10-5 Cowboy win at Southeastern’s Pat Kenelly Diamond at Alumni Field.  

With the loss, the Demons (22-32) will face top-seeded Lamar in a 9 a.m. elimination game Thursday.

“It has to be a brand of baseball that reflects our knowledge of what tournament time is and what is necessary to win the most important games of the year or advance at the most important time of the year,” first-year head coach Chris Bertrand said. “The bottom line is the early-game pitch execution and the defense from start to finish was not in a manner where we deserved a different result. We did compete, and we did a really good job coming out of the bullpen. Our at-bats, leading up to the end of the game, were really, really good with how we fought, but once again, in playing complementary baseball at the championship time of year, we have to be better in pitch execution and the defensive part of the game.”

Following the script from the series opener between the teams in March, the Cowboys (30-25) jumped to a big lead early. In the first meeting between the teams, McNeese scored in the first three innings and led 7-1 after three, giving the Cowboys a cushion in an 8-2 win. 

McNeese’s seven-run second inning against NSU starter Tyler Bryan (1-3) on Wednesday was aided by a dropped ball on a fielder’s choice that would have left the Cowboys (30-25) with one out and a runner on first. Instead, it was part of a stretch in which five straight McNeese hitters reached base in a 12-batter inning.

The Demons answered with a milestone home run from senior catcher Bo Willis, whose two-run shot followed Clay Jung’s leadoff single. The home run was the 23rd of Willis’ career, moving him into a three-way tie for 10th in school history with Brandon Morgan and Tyler Smith.

Willis’ two RBIs gave him 14 in his past four games, 46 for the season and 115 in his NSU career, moving him into 10th in school history.

McNeese right-hander Zach Voss (2-5) had a response of his own, retiring nine straight and 13 of the next 14 hitters following Willis’ home run to scuttle any potential momentum the Demons had.

While Voss kept the Demons quiet, the NSU relief corps of Alejandro Marquez (1 2-3 innings), Bryce Leonard (2 innings) and Dylan Marionneaux (4 innings) did not allow an earned run in the final 7 2-3 innings of the game.

Marionneaux continued to shine in relief, striking out a career-high six while lowering his relief ERA on the season to 1.42 and giving the Demons a chance to come back.

Daniel Burroway’s two-run home run in the seventh – his ninth of the year – pulled NSU within four before two more unearned runs extended McNeese’s lead to six in the ninth.

NSU made one final push, loading the bases with one out and getting an RBI single from Reese Lipoma before Lejeune retired the final two Demons he faced.

“On a day where you’re going to play a team that has postseason experience and you’re going to face everybody’s best arms – which I think we did with the starter and the two bullpen arms (Ty Abraham and Cameron LeJeune) – you have to realize the ebbs and flows of the game. Within the seven-run inning, we made mistakes that should not have led us to seven. We gave up a run on a bunt play in the seventh, and we gave up some silly runs in the ninth. When you look at it, as much as you want an offensive answer, you take the runs you do get and figure out a way of how they can complement. We didn’t, on the mound and on defense, complement what the team did today.”

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