LAKE CHARLES – A strike out by relief pitcher Aidan Anderson for the final out of the ballgame emptied the McNeese dugout as the Cowboys dog piled near the pitcher’s mound in celebration of the program’s first Southland Conference regular season championship since 2006.
The celebration capped an offensive attack that included 15 hits and a solid starting pitching performance by Austin Sanders as the Cowboys downed Lamar 10-2 to win the outright conference championship, their fourth in school history.
“There really aren’t words,” said an emotional head coach Justin Hill. “This is great. It’s one of those things you can’t help to think about the guys who were here the first year (in Hill’s first season four years ago), the Andrew Guillottes, the Connor Lloyds, the Jackson Goochs. Conner Crane, Lewis Guilbeau, Bryce Kingsley. All the guys that bought in. It’s special.”
“I can’t even describe how special it is to be able to win the championship at home,” said senior shortstop Will Fox. “This is an incredible feeling. It’s awesome.”
Senior third baseman Matt Gallier uncorked a bases loaded triple to left-center field in the seventh inning to clear the bases and put McNeese up 8-2. He did get help with the hit when Lamar center fielder Vincent Dellocono lost track of the ball in the dimming sky.
Gallier is wrapping up his fourth season with the Cowboys. His father, James, was an All-Southland Conference player for McNeese from 1979-82.
“It meant everything (to win the title at home),” said Gallier. “It’s about the fans, our team, everyone as a community, as a family. That’s what we are. This is what you work for every year to get to the top.
“He’s been my coach my whole life,” said Gallier of his father. “We’ve worked so hard through everything and he’s been there through it all. To share it with him, it meant the whole world to me.”
Lamar (32-22, 15-13) took an early lead when catcher Bryndan Arrendondo took advantage of one of the few mistakes by Sanders and launched a two-run home run to put the Cardinals up 2-0 in the top of the first.
McNeese (35-17, 21-7) didn’t waste any time getting on the board. Robbie Podorsky, who had two hits on the night, popped a ball over the pitcher’s head then sprinted for an infield single to lead off the Cowboys’ offense in the first. Ricky Ramirez, Jr. walked then after Joe Provenzano reached on a fielding error by Lamar third baseman Chad Fleischman, Shane Selman, who ended the night 3-for-5 with three RBI, had two of them on a first inning single to tie the game at 2-2.
“There was tension,” said Hill. “Everybody knew what was at stake. They (Lamar) hit the 2-run homer. There probably wasn’t a better pitcher to be in there to handle the moment. Then we get the big hit then it became a baseball game. Our guys kept battling, kept battling. We got the big hit and just kept hitting.”
The scored stayed even until the sixth inning when McNeese sent nine batters to the plate and had five straight reach base with Ramirez, Provenzano and Selman each collecting RBI singles. Ramirez’s knock to center field scored Mitchell Rogers to break the 3-2 tie as two more runs followed to make it a 5-2 game.
The Cowboys weren’t done.
In the next inning, 10 batters saw the plate as six hits scored five runs and the Cowboys opened up the game at 10-2.
Rogers and Fox led off the inning with back-to-back singles, then after a Podorsky sacrifice bunt advanced the runners a base, Ramirez was hit-by-a-pitch to load the bases for Gallier who drive to the gap got lost in the night sky and rolled to the wall as the bases cleared to make it an 8-2 game.
Provenzano, who was 2-for-4 with two RBI, followed with a double down the left field line to score Gallier and make it 9-2, then Duhon popped a two out single to left field that scored Provenzano to make it 10-2.
After Lamar’s two-run first inning, the Cardinals got past first base just three more times in the game as Sanders, who improved to 7-2 on the season, settled in to get the win. He finished the game throwing seven innings and giving up two runs on four hits with four strike outs.
Aidan Anderson tossed the final two innings striking out four and allowing a hit. His fourth strike out set the team in a frenzy with a dog pile near the pitcher’s mound.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Fox. “This team is special.”
Game two of the series will carry a 6:05 start on Friday with a pregame ceremony recognizing this year’s seniors set to begin at approximately 5:45.