A battle between the top two teams in the Southland Conference baseball standings didn't disappoint as the 27th-ranked and first place McNeese Cowboys were three outs away from taking game one of a big league series from Sam Houston State, but a two-run ninth, capped off with a walk-off single by Clayton Harp lifted the Bearkats to 10-9 win over the Cowboys.
The loss dropped the Cowboys to 28-12 overall and 18-4 in league play but continue to hold onto sole possession of first place over the Bearkats (28-14, 14-5).
Game two will carry a 3 p.m. start time on Saturday as the Cowboys will throw RHP Rhett Deaton. The game will broadcast live on the McNeese Radio Network (KEZM 1310 AM, McNeeseSports.com, KEZMonline.com).
Both teams played scoreless ball through the first two innings as both starting pitchers seemed to be on cruise control.
That changed in the third when the Cowboys plated four runs to build a 4-0 lead.
Matt Gallier and Joe Provenzano each had RBI singles in the frame followed by a two-run double from Shane Selman to make it 4-0.
The Bearkats answered in the bottom of the inning by scoring five runs off six hits to take a 5-4 lead through three innings.
"It was a great battle tonight," said McNeese coach Justin Hill. "It was one those deals where neither of the starters threw the ball well enough. I thought both offenses did a great job.
"I was really proud with how we fought and how we got after it and how we played. Credit them (SHSU). There's a reason they're where they're at as well."
Both team combined to put up 18 hits, 17 by the Bearkats, along with a couple of home runs hit by the Cowboys.
McNeese tied the game with a run in the fourth but the Bearkats came back with three in the bottom of the inning to go back up 8-5.
Austin Nelson closed the gap to 8-6 with a solo home run in the fifth, his second on the season, then a three-run seventh put the Cowboys up 9-8.
Relief work by Tyler Wesley and Trent Fontenot stymied the Bearkat offense and held them to zero runs from the fifth through the eight innings as the pair combined to strike out five batters in the four innings.
"That was a big moment with what Tyler did," said Hill. "He kept us in the ball game and Shane (Selman) hits the big homer and Nelly (Nelson) gets the home run to get us closer."
Selman tied the game at 8-8 with a two-run, no-out home run in the seventh, his 10th of the season. Two batters later, Nelson, who followed Selman's home run with a single up the middle, reached third on a fielding error then scored on a Will Fox groundout to put McNeese up 9-8.
Fontenot pitched out of a jam in the bottom of the eighth when the Bearkats had runners at second and third with two outs as he got the next batter to strike out to end the threat.
Collin Kober (2-3) took the loss after the Bearkats got the first three batters in the ninth on base, then with runners at second and third with one out, Harp's single to the right side scored pinch runner Mac Odom for the game-winning run as Jacob Stracner's throw in from right field was not in time.
The Cowboys left nine runners on base on the night, five of those in scoring position.
"We had some opportunities to score some runs and we didn't take advantage of it," said Hill. "That's what's really important and what I want us to learn from this loss."
Duhon led the Cowboys at the plate with three hits on a 3-for-5 night, Selman finished 2-for-5 with four RBI, Joe Provenzano 2-for-4 and Nelson 2-for-4 with a RBI.
The Bearkats had seven players with two or more hits as center fielder Bryce Johnson and second baseman Lance Miles each collecting three.
Bearkat reliever Kyle Backhus got the win to improve to 3-3 on the season after he threw three no-hit, scoreless innings with five strike outs.
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