LAKE CHARLES, LA - The Justin Hill era couldn't have started off any better Friday night as the McNeese State baseball team opened the season with an 8-3 victory over Chicago State.
The season-opening win is the first for the Cowboys since defeating Houston Baptist in 2012. The victory was also McNeese's first home opening win since 2010. Hill became the first Cowboys skipper to win a season opener in his first year since Todd Butler in 2001.
"Well, once we got going it felt like just another game," Hill said. "I have been fortunate to serve under coaches that have given me the chance to make crucial decisions and tonight I felt like I did the same with my staff. We have a great staff here. This was all a team effort for sure."
The Cowboys had to clear some early season cobwebs in the early going as an error committed on a play at the plate allowed Chicago State's Mattingly Romanin to score and take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.
McNeese gathered itself in the bottom of the inning, scoring three runs to take the lead that it would not relinquish. In his first collegiate at-bat James Cantu drove in an RBI as he grounded out to second while senior Jackson Gooch scored on an error by the Cougars second baseman. Connor Lloyd scored the final run of the inning on a bases-loaded walk.
"Bryce (Kingsley) wasn't at his best tonight but what he did do was give us a chance to win," Hill said. "He made some big pitches when he had to and the interesting thing is that they left 10 runners on base and had just as many hits as we did. Our guys made some great plays and backed up the pitching staff well."
Chicago State cut the lead to one run in the top of the third as Russell scored on an infield single that scraped the leg of Kingsley.
Reed Gordy, who went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, drove in a run in the bottom of the third when Lloyd scored from second on a single.
After starting the game as the designated hitter, Lucas Quary came in to relieve a Kingsley and picked up his first career win. Quary tossed 3 1/3 innings and allowed no runs on three hits and struck out four.
"I think that was the changing point in the game is when Lucas came in," Hill said. "The energy he brought was great and he had a certain presence about him and picked up some momentum for us. The tempo really changed."
The momentum was certainly noticed as McNeese tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning with a Taylor Drake two-run single while Matt Williams scored on a single by Gordy.
Steven O'Bryant entered the back end of the game to relieve Quary and was credited with his first career save after working 2 2/3 innings. O'Bryant gave up a run but struck out four.
The Cougars added a run in the eighth inning but the Cowboys stretched their lead again with a one-run double by Drake.
The Cowboys will be back in action Saturday when they take on SEC opponent Missouri in the second game of Saturday's Lake Area Classic. The game is the first meeting between the two programs and is slated to start at 3 p.m.
McNeese State 8, Chicago State 3
*Southern Miss vs. Missouri, 11 a.m.
*McNeese vs. Missouri, 3 p.m.
*Chicago State vs. Southern Miss, 7 p.m.
*Missouri vs. Chicago State, 1 p.m.
*McNeese vs. Southern Miss, 4:30 p.m.