By McNeese Sports Information Assistant Hunter Bower
LAKE CHARLES – The McNeese baseball team's attempt at a late-game rally fell short Friday night as the Cowboys fell victim to Valparaiso, 6-5, in the opening of a three-game series.
After falling behind 5-0 early in the first two innings, McNeese (5-3) used four runs in the late innings to attempt a comeback but could not capitalize.
"I was proud of the way our kids came back tonight," said head coach Justin Hill. "They had a good pitching staff tonight and for our kids to rally back the way they did was good. I thought our offense swung the bats well although it did take us a little bit to get going. That's what happens when you get down early but we took it as a lesson tonight and will get better for tomorrow."
Despite a 14 hit advantage over the Crusaders, the Cowboys were unable to capitalize on any rallies as it left 10 runners stranded on base, seven of which were in the last three innings.
Valpo (4-3) got a big lead in the first two innings as the Crusaders scored runs in the first off of a fielding error and a double to take a 2-0 lead. Valpo extended its lead in the second inning off of a Chris Manning three-run bomb over the left field wall to make it an early 5-0 score.
Sophomore starter Bryce Kingsley (0-1) continued to struggle on the mound as he took the loss after pitching just 2.0 innings and gave up five runs (four earned) on four hits and walked three batters.
"Bryce struggled tonight and you could see that, but it wasn't from lack of effort, I believe he was just frustrated," said Hill. "We are going to get him back out there as soon as we can. He wants to help put the team and he works too hard not to be there."
McNeese finally got on the board in the fourth inning with a single up the middle from Connor Lloyd to send home James Cantu and cut the lead to a 5-1 score.
Reliever Cole Prejean pitched a tremendous 5.0 innings giving up just two hits while allowing no runs to score and recorded a career-high seven strikeouts.
"I thought we had a lot of help from our bullpen tonight, which was big for us," said Hill. "Other than the run given up in the eighth, our guys executed well tonight."
Lloyd batted a season best 4-for-4 on the night with an RBI and also scored a run. The shortstop also collected a walk from the Crusaders' pitching staff.
The Cowboys found life late in the game as they scored two runs in the seventh as Matt Williams' single up the middle drove in a run while Andrew Guillotte's double down the right field line cut into the Valpo lead once again, making it a 5-3 ballgame.
The Crusaders responded in the top of the eighth inning with a sacrifice fly to centerfield to extend their lead to a 6-3 score.
McNeese would not go down without a fight, as the Pokes would load the bases on back-to-back singles and walk. With one out, Williams knocked in a ball to right field allowing Marion to score from third to gives the Crusaders a one-run lead heading into the final inning.
After holding Valpo in the top, the Cowboys hoped for one last chance as pinch hitter Billy Sommers led off the inning with a single to center. A fielder's choice allowed Guillotte to reach base while Cantu received a walk. With runners on first and second, Gooch delivered a hit to left center sending in Guillotte to plate the Cowboys' fifth run and cut the lead to one.
McNeese would need a prayer as Reed Gordy came up to hit with bases loaded and no outs. The third baseman delivered a sure hit to center that could have been the game winner but the Crusaders' Bryce Hara came up with a pretty catch to end the game.