NATCHITOCHES – For eight innings Sunday afternoon, the Northwestern State baseball team controlled the action against No. 23 McNeese.
In the ninth, everything went the visiting Cowboys’ way.
McNeese took advantage of a Demons’ ninth-inning error and a bases-loaded hit by pitch to fashion a three-run rally in the final inning and threw out a runner at home to snuff out an NSU rally in a Southland Conference series-clinching 5-4 victory at Brown-Stroud Field.
“It got away from us at the end,” first-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “It says a lot about our team and our guys to come out and play the way they did against the 23rd-ranked team in the country. We came up short. We’ve got to learn from that stuff. Those young guys will learn from it to make us better in the future.”
The Demons (13-25, 5-13) started the game with four consecutive hits, tallying three runs of McNeese starter Aidan Anderson, who lasted only one inning.
Armed with a 3-0 lead, Northwestern State was in position to extend it in the second innings when it loaded the bases with nobody out before reliever Peyton McLemore got a strikeout and a double play to escape the jam.
Demons right-hander Cullen McDonald, making the first weekend start of his career, gave Northwestern State all it could ask for, allowing one earned run in six innings. McDonald limited McNeese (28-11, 18-3) to four hits while striking out four.
“Cullen did a great job for us,” Barbier said. “He pitched his tail off.”
Tim Winders (1-3) came in and was brilliant in the seventh and eighth innings, striking out five of the first seven batters he faced to maintain NSU’s one-run lead.
Winders struck out the side in the eighth inning, giving the Demons momentum that NSU built on when Spencer Goodwin turned an 0-2 pitch from Collin Kober (2-2) into an insurance-run-scoring infield single that doubled the NSU lead.
The Cowboys answered in the ninth.
Jake Cochran led off with a single before pinch hitter Austin Nelson drew a walk and Dustin Duhon followed with an infield single to load the bases. Winders then induced a potential double-play ball that turned into the third error of the day for the Demons, allowing a run to score and keep the bases loaded.
Will Fox followed with a game-tying sacrifice fly. After an intentional walk re-loaded the bases, Jacob Stracner was hit by a pitch to force in the go-ahead run.
Stracner entered the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning and loomed large in the ninth.
David Fry led off the ninth with a single off Kober and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt before Kober hit Matthew Alford with a pitch. Tyler Smith then hooked a single through the right side that Stracner fielded and threw a strike to home plate to get Fry for the second out.
A strike out then allowed McNeese to capture the series.
“We had what we wanted,” Barbier said. “We had a shot. The kid threw a missile from right field. That’s the way it’s been going for us. We had opportunities early in the game to spread the lead out. You have to do that to beat good teams.”
Northwestern State returns to action Tuesday when it hosts Mississippi Valley State in the first of a two-game series. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.
No. 23 McNeese 5, Northwestern State 4
McNeese 000 110 003 – 5 6 0
NSU 300 000 010 – 4 10 3
W – Collin Kober (2-2). L – Tim Winders (1-3). 2B – McN, Ricky Ramirez. NSU, Spencer Goodwin. Highlights: McN, Ramirez 2-3, 2B; Jake Cochran 2-4; Dustin Duhon 2-4. NSU, Goodwin 3-4, 2B, RBI; Fry 2-4, RBI.
Records: McNeese 28-11, 18-3; Northwestern State 13-25, 5-13.