Cowboys edge Lions in extra innings for series triumph


Chase Gispert

Senior catcher Bryce Grizzaffi in the batter’s box during Friday’s game one contest vs. McNeese at Pat Kenelly Diamond at Alumni Field. (April 14, 2023 – Hammond)

Southeastern baseball dropped to 18-18 (4-8 SLC) this weekend after losing its home series against McNeese. 

The Cowboys got their revenge on the Lions following last year’s Green and Gold triumph in Lake Charles for the Southland Conference Tournament title. 

McNeese erased a 5-0 deficit through five innings in game one on Friday night (April 14) to storm back for a dramatic 7-6 victory, which was a sign of things to come in a topsy-turvy three-game affair. 

SLU bounced back for an 8-7 win in game two on Saturday night (April 15) to even the series at one apiece. However, an extra inning 3-2 defeat on Sunday afternoon doomed the Lions as the Cowboys finally had their long-awaited Hammond rodeo. 

MSU was seemingly down and out during game one, but a top-of-the-sixth solo shot from Brad Burckel gave the team life. A three up three down half inning for starter Grant Rogers set up a three-run McNeese surge for the top of the seventh, as the Cowboys were suddenly within a single run of the Lions.

Junior catcher Andruw Gonzales launched a leadoff home run to kickstart the seventh, introducing newly subbed-in graduate pitcher Trey Harrington to the ball game. A Payton Harden double sandwiched in between two walks loaded the bases for MSU with zero outs. 

Junior pitcher Jackson Rodriguez took Harrington’s place on the mound and struck out fellow junior left fielder Cooper Hext on three pitches. However, the LSU Eunice transfer then proceeded the plunk Tre’ Obregon III, who scored McNeese’s third run of the contest.

What happened next would not only silence the crowd and stun Southeastern, it seemed to be the moment the tide turned in favor of the Cowboys. After Burckel struck out swinging, SLU made a pitching change to junior Lance Lauve. 

Then, out of seemingly nowhere, the speedster Harden took off from third base and slid in safely at the plate, making it 5-4. The 2022 Southland Conference Player of the Year swiped his seventeenth bag of the season, sending the MSU dugout into a frenzy. 

Another three up three down half inning for SLU once again left the door open for McNeese. The Blue and Gold would not squander their opportunity, hitting back-to-back singles to start the eighth. 

Senior third baseman Taylor Darden’s sac fly resulted in a tie game, with junior right fielder Braden Duhon being the direct beneficiary. 

After having minimal interest with a comfortable five-run cushion, Southeastern hit back through graduated designated hitter Connor Manola’s leadoff first-pitch solo bomb in the bottom of the eighth to regain the lead, 6-5. 

The first two Cowboys batters reached first and second on a throwing error and a walk. Two consecutive flyouts put runners on the corners with two outs. The Lions were one out away from taking command of the series. 

Sophomore pinch-runner Conner Westenburg stole second to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Down to his last strike of a 2-2 count, Duhon blooped Lauve’s offering just out of reach and over the head of senior third baseman Shea Thomas down the left field line. 

The ball spun into foul territory and easily scored both runs as the former LA Tech Bulldog strolled into second with the most clutch hit of the game. McNeese was in front for the first time all night, 7-6. 

SLU managed to get men on first and second with one out, but Manola, the hero of the last inning, grounded into a double-play to end the game in heartbreak for the Green and Gold. 

Duhon and Burckel led the charge for MSU with three hits each as senior reliever Christian Vega (3-2) picked up his third win of the year. Redshirt junior right-hander earned his third save of the season.

Lauve (2-1) was charged with his first loss of 2023 in relief. Starting junior pitcher Will Kinzeler was superb in his five innings on the bump, allowing zero runs, three hits and striking out one. 

Senior left fielder Pierce Leavengood had a single and a two-run homer at the plate for the Lions.

Game two saw the two sides reverse roles a little bit, as this time it was McNeese who got out to a sizable lead, only for Southeastern to storm back with a vengeance. 

Following a scoreless first two innings, the Cowboys struck first with two runs in the top of the third. 

Darden singled up the middle to lead things off before Harden reached via a fielder’s choice, setting up runners on first and second with zero outs (fielder’s choice was unsuccessful). 

Hext’s double would later score both men and MSU jumped out to a 2-0 lead. This score would remain until the Blue and Gold scratched another run across the board in the top of the sixth. 

Burckel’s leadoff walk resulted in McNeese’s third run of the game when he was batted in by Duhon’s fielder’s choice further along in the frame. 

SLU engineered a two-out rally in the bottom half of the inning, scoring a pair of runs, making the score 3-2. 

An error by the Green and Gold gifted the Cowboys two runs before a sac fly made it 6-2 through six and a half innings. 

Despite seeing its work immediately undone, the Lions exploded for five runs in the bottom of the seventh and took its first lead of the game, 7-6. Thomas’ two RBI bases-loaded single highlighted the sudden Southeastern surge. 

MSU senior shortstop Josh Leslie’s double combined with yet another SLU fielding error knotted the game at seven. 

Hammond native and redshirt senior first baseman came up clutch for the Lions with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the eighth to give Southeastern the lead for good, 8-7. 

McNeese did pose a threat in the ninth, as Obregon III’s leadoff single presented the Blue and Gold’s tying run. Junior pinch runner Dean Bittner advanced to second on a deep fly ball to righty before taking third on a passed ball. 

With a man on third and two outs, up to the plate stepped Duhon, the hero from game one. In an eerily similar situation, it was Rodriguez who answered the bell out of the SLU bullpen. 

The Kingwood, Texas native sat Duhon down, looking on a full count pitch to seal victory for Southeastern.

Rodriguez (1-0) earned his first win of the season, while his counterpart Vega fell to 3-3. 

Junior right hander Andrew Landry threw 5.1 innings, surrendering three runs on five hits while striking out two. Artigues and fifth-year senior center fielder Tyler Finke led the Lions at the plate with two hits each. 

After 28 combined runs from Friday and Saturday, Sunday’s all-important game three turned into a pitchers’ duel. Starting pitchers Brennan Stuprich (Southeastern) and Ty Abraham (McNeese) battled all afternoon as runs were hard to come by for either lineup. 

Through five innings, the scoreboard at Alumni Field read: 0-0. Stuprich had dominated the Cowboys lineup and retired the first two batters of the sixth. 

However, a single, walk and hit by pitch spelled trouble for the Lions. Junior first baseman Elliot Hebert broke the deadlock with a two-RBI single up the middle to put the Cowboys on top 2-0. 

SLU finally breached home plate in the bottom of the seventh behind Leavengood’s RBI single and junior second baseman Rhett Rosevear’s sac fly to tie the game at 2. 

Green and blue could not be separated from gold as the two clubs remained all square at two through nine innings. 

With the series on the line, MSU’s Burckel turned a full count into a leadoff walk to start the tenth. Hebert’s sacrifice bunt moved Burckel over to second and Duhon stepped into the box. 

The junior right fielder was 0-4 on the day, but that didn’t seem to bother him one bit as he smacked a single to left field, scoring Burckel from second. Southeastern’s nemesis had struck again, and McNeese led 3-2. 

The Lions whimpered in the ninth outside of sophomore catcher Michael Curry’s single, ultimately losing by one run in extra innings. 

All three games were decided by a lone run in a highly competitive series that just tipped the Cowboys’ way. 

Next up for the Green and Gold is a home date with Jackson State tonight which is already underway at The Pat. 

SLU will be looking to go back above.500 for the campaign before enjoying a rare weekend off. 

Southeastern (18-18, 4-8 SLC) will resume play next Friday-Sunday vs. Lamar (19-16, 5-7 SLC) on April 28-30 in Hammond with an opportunity to improve upon their conference record.

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