LAKE CHARLES – One night after clinching the 2017 Southland Conference baseball regular season championship and the number one seed in next week’s tournament, the McNeese Cowboys appeared to be suffering from the celebration aftereffects in a 4-1 loss to Lamar on Friday.
McNeese (35-18, 21-8 SLC) lost for just the fifth time at home on the season, committing three errors in the process with just one extra-base hit, all on a day where the team honored its eight seniors in a pregame ceremony.
“Not real good,” said head coach Justin Hill of his thoughts on his team’s performance. “It’s something we talked about that if our only goal was to go win a conference championship, and we did that, then we have nothing else to do. There were probably some effects from last night, just the emotion of the moment.
“The bottom line is, they (Lamar) played better than we did today.”
The Cardinals (33-22, 16-13 SLC) tossed three pitchers that held the Cowboys to eight hits and only one extra-base knock, that being an Austin Nelson solo home run in the fifth inning for the only score of the game for McNeese.
“We couldn’t get anything going offensively,” said Hill. “We got the one hit over the fence. They played better than us all the way around. We three errors, we walked more batters than they did.”
Starting pitcher Rhett Deaton (8-3) started the game and came out in the third inning after giving up a lead-off single to Grant Devore, who went 4-for-4 at the plate for the Cardinals. It was an unexpected substitution for Deaton that early in the game after he had held Lamar scoreless through the first two innings.
“There was something that didn’t seem quite right,” said Hill of Deaton. “It was something he had told us before. He wanted to go. It was one of those deals where we weren’t going to push it with the postseason and everything kind of locked up. That was our call. He probably could’ve kept going.”
Lamar scored three runs in the third inning with the help of the first of three errors and led it 3-0.
That held until the fifth when Nelson’s home run over the center field fence put McNeese on the board and cut the lead to 3-1. It was his third homer of the season.
The Cardinals threatened big innings several more times but the Cowboys were about to use big plays to prevent further damage including a throw out at home by third baseman Matt Gallier in the first inning to ruin Lamar’s chance at an early score by getting the first two batters on base; a 643 double play to end the seventh inning with the Cardinals loaded the bases with one out; and a pick-off play on a runner breaking to third base, again when Lamar put the first two runners on.
The the Cowboys were never able to answer at the plate.
McNeese managed to get just two batters past first base other than Nelson’s home run, and left eight runners stranded on the night. But the Cowboys also had some hits taken away from them by the Lamar defense.
“They certainly made some good plays,” said Hill. “But I don’t think we put enough pressure on them consistently. We couldn’t keep things going.”
Nelson, Mitchell Rogers and Joe Provenzano each had two hits on the night while Robbie Podorsky and Dustin Duhon had one apiece.
Three Lamar pitchers combined for the one-run, six-hitter, walking just one batter while striking out 10.
Starter Jace Campbell (4-4) picked up the win after throwing 5 1/3 innings and giving up the one run on six hits. After Galen Andrews threw 1 2/3 hitless frames, Tanner Driskell earned his sixth save of the season with two innings of two-hit ball while striking out four.
Four McNeese pitchers followed Deaton on the mound with Peyton McLemore closing out the final 2 2/3 innings by allowing a ninth-inning home run as the only run and hit given up, while striking out four.
McNeese will go for its eighth conference series win of the season on Saturday with the first pitch scheduled for 3 p.m.