Austin Sanders tied a career-high with nine strike outs in 7 2/3 innings pitched while Ricky Ramirez, Jr. and Joe Provenzano each came up with big hits in both the fourth and fifth innings to help lead McNeese to a 6-4 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Friday night and winning the first game of a three-game Southland Conference series.
The win improved McNeese's record to 31-13 and 20-5 in conference play on the season while it maintained a two-game lead in the loss column in the league standings after Sam Houston State fell to Southeastern Louisiana on Friday night. The 20 league wins marks just the third time in school history the Cowboys have won 20 Southland Conference games in a season (20 in 2000 and 22 in 2006).
Sanders, who improved to 6-2 on the season with the win, had one rocky inning when the gave up a 2-run home run to Dalton Stark in the fourth inning to put the Islanders on top 2-0.
After that, the senior settled in and tied a career-high with nine strike outs before being lifted with two outs in the eighth inning.
"Austin Sanders was the story of the game," said head coach Justin Hill. "He was good. If he's not good, we don't win that ball game."
McNeese tied things up in the bottom of the fourth when Dustin Duhon drew a one-out walk then scored on Ramirez's triple thanks to a misjudging of a line drive by Islander center fielder Nick Anderson whose diving attempt came up short and the ball trickled to the wall. Duhon's run made it 2-1 and Ramirez tied things up with his score when Provenzano singled through the right side for the RBI.
"That was a big answer back by our offense in that inning," said Hill. "We took advantage of some mistakes then we get it going again in the fifth."
The Cowboys widened the lead with a four-run fifth inning behind a two-run double by Ramirez, and RBI single from Provenzano, and a RBI sac bunt by Duhon to make it 6-2.
"Both Ricky and Joe came up big for us," said Hill. "I'm not necessarily excited with how we played. I think we're better than what we played tonight.
AMCC (15-31, 7-15) starting pitcher Dustin Lacaze was brilliant early, holding the Cowboys hitless through 3 1/3 innings before the Cowboys finally broke through with a Duhan walk then Ramirez's triple.
"Credit them (Corpus Christi)," said Hill. "I thought they pitched really well against us. We never made them uncomfortable."
That comfort level definitely dipped in the fifth inning when the Cowboys knocked the ball around for three hits while putting six batters on base.
"We can get it in bunches," said Hill about the offense. "The biggest thing is, when we get a chance to knock a guy out, we have to take advantage of that."
Lacaze (2-3) was pulled with one out in the fifth inning and two Islanders relief pitchers - David Worrell and Korey Rasure - held the Cowboys scoreless with just two hits in 3 2/3 innings.
"I thought we gave their guys a chance to breath," said Hill.
McNeese's pen came up big as well as Grant Anderson recorded his first save of the season after he threw the final 1 1/3 innings to close out the game. He entered the game with two outs in the eighth innings and runners at second and third and struck out the tying run to end the threat.
Game two of the series will carry a 3 o'clock first pitch on Saturday as Rhett Deaton goes for win No. 8 on the mound.
• McNeese President-elect Dr. Daryl Burckel threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game. The former Cowboy standout football player spent about 30 minutes warming up in the McNeese bullpen to get ready for his throw.
• McNeese held a moment of silence prior to the National Anthem for former Islanders shortstop Casey Thomas who passed away unexpectedly earlier in the week while at extended spring training for the Oakland Athletics. When the Cowboys took the field for the moment of silence, they left the shortstop position vacant in memory of him.