LAKE CHARLES – McNeese struggled early from the plate for the second straight game and it wasn’t until falling behind 6-0 before getting things going, but it was too little, too late as Sam Houston State took a 9-4 victory on Saturday to clinch the Southland Conference baseball series.
McNeese (20-23, 14-9 SLC) will attempt to avoid the sweep against the Bearkats (30-13, 17-3) in Sundays finale beginning at 1 p.m.
SHSU snapped a scoreless tie in the third inning with a three spot, two of those coming on a two-out double by Andrew Fregia as the Bearkats took a 3-0 advantage.
The lead increased to 6-0 after the Bearkats plated three runs in the fourth inning, all scoring with two outs.
The Cowboys matched that scoring with three runs in the bottom of the inning to cut the deficit in half at 6-3 following a string of hits to start off the inning.
“We have to do a better job of coming out strong,” said head coach Justin Hill. “It wasn’t until it was 6-0 before we got things going.”
Carson Maxwell and Joe Provenzano started things off with back-to-back singles. That was followed with a double by Dustin Duhon to score both runners and make it a 6-2 game. After the first out of the inning, Mitchell Rogers doubled down the left field line to score Duhon to cut the lead to 6-3.
McNeese added another run in the fifth inning on a Provenzano solo home run to make it a 6-4 game. It was his third homer of the season.
The bullpen for both teams got the job done in the latter innings.
Bearkats’ Landon Ausley retired eight straight after taking over in the sixth inning until walking Duhon with two outs in the eighth as the Cowboys put the tying run at the plate. After a pitching change, Jake Cochran struck out to end the inning.
Meanwhile, Cayne Ueckert held the Bearkats to just one hit in his first three innings of work but got into a jam in the top of the ninth as Sam Houston State put the game away with three runs to make it a 9-4 game.
“He gave us a chance,” said Hill of Ueckert. “He’s going to be in the weekend rotation pretty soon.”
Bearkat starter Seth Ballew (5-1) picked up the win after he threw five innings and was touched for four runs on six hits.
McNeese’s Bryan King (3-4) took the loss after allowing six runs on six hits in 3.1 innings but he did strike out seven batters during that time.
Both Provenzano and Maxwell collected two hits each to lead the Cowboys’ seven-hit attack while Andrew Fregia, Jordan Cannon and Chase Cryer paced the Bearkat 10-hit game with two hits apiece.
Tyler Wesley will get the start on the mound for the Cowboys on Sunday as they look to avoid the sweep.
• Joe Povenzano collected his 223rd and 224th career hits and needs one more to move into a tie for fourth all-time in the McNeese record book.
• Cason Maxwell extended his hitting streak to 13-straight games, a season-high for any Cowboy player.
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