NATCHITOCHES – McNeese scored three runs in the top of the ninth then a game-saving play at home from the arm of right fielder Jacob Stracner in the bottom of the ninth helped preserve a 5-4 win over Northwestern State on Sunday afternoon.
The victory gave the 23rd-ranked Cowboys their first series win in Natchitoches since the 1992 season as they improve to 28-11 overall and 18-3 in the Southland Conference, extending their lead in the league standings due to Sam Houston State getting swept at Central Arkansas.
McNeese now holds a two game lead in the loss column in the standings, setting up next weekend’s showdown at Sam Houston State.
On Sunday, the Demons (13-25, 5-13) got a solid pitching performance from starter Cullen McDonald who threw six innings giving up two runs on four hits, and reliever Tim Winders who allowed three runs on two hits.
McNeese’s bullpen, along with three NSU errors, kept the Cowboys hopes alive.
After Cowboys’ starter Aidan Anderson allowed the first four Demons to hit their way on in the bottom of the first, leading to three runs and a 3-0 deficit, relievers Peyton McLemore, Grant Anderson, Trent Fontenot and Collin Kober gave up just one run the remaining eight innings as Kober got the win to even his record at 2-2.
Grant Anderson matched his longest outing of his career with 4 1/3 innings, didn’t allow a run and just two hits with three strikeouts.
“I thought what McLemore did in the second inning then Grant, that was impressive,” said head coach Justin Hill who was just 12 years old when the last time McNeese won a series in Natchitoches. “We don’t win that game without Grant in there.”
McNeese got on the board in the fourth when Will Fox drew a lead-off walk, advanced to third on a Ricky Ramirez, Jr. double, then scored on a RBI groundout by Matt Gallier to cut the Demons’ lead to 3-1. Ramirez extended his streak to 32 straight games reaching base with the double and finished the game with two of the Cowboys’ six hits.
The Cowboys got another run in the fifth when Mitchell Rogers reached on the second of three NSU errors, and later scored on a Robbie Podorsky sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to 3-2.
The Demons seemingly plated an insurance run in the eighth on a Goodwin single to make it 4-2, but McNeese didn’t shy away.
In the ninth, Jake Cochran led things off with a single to right field. Then Austin Nelson, pinch-hitting for Rogers, drew a walk. That was followed by a Dustin Duhon infield single to load the bases.
“Every time he had the opportunity this weekend, he made the most of it,” said Hill of Nelson. “And even though he’s the No. 9 hitter, Dustin has had some really big at-bats for us this season. We were going for the win there with Dustin, not the tie.”
Duhon also had two hits in the game along with Cochran as only three Cowboys recorded hits in the game.
“We were never able to get the big hit today,” said Hill. “But the guys kept battling and made things happen.”
Still with no outs, the third costly error for the Demons helped the Cowboys cut the margin to one run as Podorsky’s grounder to second base was mishandled, allowing Cochran to score and cut the margin to 4-3.
Fox followed with an RBI sacrifice fly to left field to tie the game at 4-4 while each runner moved up a base. An intentional walk was issued to Ramirez to load the bases for the second time in the inning and Jacob Stracner was hit-by-a-pitch that scored Duhon to give McNeese a 5-4 lead.
The Demons put up a fight in the bottom of the ninth with a lead off single by David Fry then a one-out HBP on Matthew Alford to put runners at first and second. Stracner, who was inserted into right field after running for Gallier in the eighth inning while Ramirez moved to first base, came up with the play of the game.
Fielding a single to right field from Tyler Smith, Stracner fielded the ball and threw a perfect strike to home plate as Duhon applied the tag on Fry, the potential tying run.
“The best throw I’ve seen from the outfield,” commented Hill. “He got the perfect hop on it and threw it perfectly.”
With runners still on first and third, Kober got the final batter, pinch-hitter Austin Townsend, to strike out on three straight pitches.
Winders (1-3) took the loss in relief effort after throwing the final three innings.
NSU lead off batter Spencer Goodwin led the Demons with three hits in the game as NSU out-hit the Cowboys by a 10-6 margin.
Next up, McNeese will visit Lousiana-Lafayette at 6 on Wednesday before opening up a three-game conference series at Sam Houston State on Friday.
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.