CONWAY, Arkansas – One year after being bounced from the Southland Conference baseball tournament with two straight losses, McNeese carried a No. 7 seed into Wednesday's first round against second-seed Nicholls and rode the coattails of a superb pitching performance from Kaleb Fontenot to down the Colonels 4-2. The victory snapped a five-game tournament-losing streak for the Cowboys.
The opening round victory was the first for McNeese (29-26) since the 2010 season while the Cowboys also scored their first postseason victory over Nicholls (32-25) in program history.
McNeese bent just a little in the bottom of the eighth inning as the Colonels threatened with two runs to cut the lead in half. However, the Cowboys used superb fielding to hold on and score the win to advance to the next round.
"We were really excited about the way we came out and play today," said Cowboys head coach Justin Hill. "We were locked in the entire game and had good focus throughout the day. I felt good about how we were going to perform and now we get a little bit of a break and come back out fresh."
McNeese will advance to play the winner of the Central Arkansas and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi contest at 7 p.m. on Thursday as sophomore right-hander Bryce Kingsley will take the bump to try to get the Pokes into the title game of their bracket.
"I am very excited about tomorrow and playing under the lights," said Hill. It is something to special to play this sport under the lights and especially during the conference tournament. It makes for a great game in a great environment."
Fontenot (6-2) tossed one of his best performances of the year as he worked six innings of scoreless pitching and gave up only five hits and one walk in the process. He also fanned six of the batters he faced in the game.
Cory Lapeze picked up his third save of the season after coming in to toss the last 1.2 innings and surrendered no runs and no hits with just one walk.
"Kaleb did a great job for us in today's game by keeping the innings small," said Hill. Along with the offensive performances by several of our guys, our pitching was also a big part in this win and Kaleb had a big part to do with that."
The Cowboys were led by senior outfielder Jackson Gooch who batted 2-for-4 with two RBI and a home run in the game. Second baseman Andrew Guillotte also recorded a multi-hit game after going 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a stolen base.
The stolen base lifted Guillotte into sole possession of sixth place in the all-time stolen base leader category with 55 career stolen bags. The junior is now four bags away from tying for fifth place all-time.
The Pokes jumped out to a quick lead over the Colonels as Marion's sacrifice fly to right field scored Guillotte and take a one run lead. A wild pitch on the next play would allow right fielder James Cantu to slide and give McNeese a 2-0 lead after one inning.
Gooch added to the McNeese lead in the top of the fifth inning as his center field RBI-single allowed Guillotte to run in and plate the run from second base as the Cowboys took a 3-0 lead.
Gooch struck again in the eighth inning as his third home run of the year tacked on another run for the Cowboys who extended their lead over Nicholls to a 4-0 score. The RBI was a team-high 40th for Gooch.
The McNeese lead was cut in the bottom of the eighth frame after Nicholls' designated hitter Seth Stevens sent a two-RBI double into right field allowing the Colonels to gain two runs on the Cowboys. However, Nicholls could not find any more offensive power and fell by a final score of 4-2.
Thursday night's contest will be streamed live on the Southland Digital Network, which fans can access by logging on to southland.org/watch or by downloading the Southland Conference app on their mobile devices or tablets.
The game will also be broadcast on Cajun Radio-1470 AM in Lake Charles and online at cajunradio.com, with Bruce Merchant providing the call while fans can also follow live in-game updates on Twitter @McNeeseBaseball.
by: Hunter Bower