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    Early start perfect for Cowboys

    By Jim Gazzolo,

    22 days ago

    Breakfast baseball proved a delicious treat for the Cowboys.

    Playing the morning game to open the Southland Conference Tournament Wednesday, McNeese State sent a message that its season is far from over.

    Before the dew had fully dried off the turf at Pat Kenelly Diamond in Hammond, the Cowboys jumped all over Northwestern State and never looked back.

    Scoring seven times in the second, fifth-seeded McNeese toppled No. 4 Northwestern State 10-5, advancing into the winners’ bracket of the double-elimination tournament. McNeese sent 11 batters to the plate in their most productive inning of the season.

    “We needed a win today as you want to get into the 1-0 game,” said McNeese head coach Justin Hill. “That’s big for us. We did a great job getting that big inning.”

    The win was a small measure of revenge for the Cowboys, who lost a series to the Demons earlier this year and were eliminated from last season’s by them.

    The victory was a milestone for the Cowboys, who won their 30th game of the season for the fifth straight full schedule. The 2020 season was canceled after just 17 games due to COVID-19.

    This is the ninth time McNeese (30-25) has reached that win total in his 11 seasons as Cowboy head coach. His only full year his team fell short was in 2018.

    But the big thing for this team is how they continue to turn their season around. Now they will play No. 8 seed Incarnate Word Thursday at 4 p.m. UIW beat top-seeded Lamar 6-3 in Wednesday’s second game. UIW swept the Cowboys in Lake Charles earlier this season but still needed a win on the last day of the regular season to make the tournament.

    The Cowboys, now the top remaining seed on that side of the bracket, are a different team than when they played UIW earlier. Their win in the tourney opener was their 10th in their last 13 games against SLC competition, making them the hottest team in this postseason.

    That was displayed in the second when McNeese scored seven runs on five hits. Two hits came from Elliot Hebert, who started the rally with a leadoff triple and drove in the final two runs with a two-out single to center.

    Braley Hollins followed Hebert’s triple with a single to right as McNeese took the early lead. Hebert finished with three hits while Hollins reached base all four times he batted.

    First-team all-conference outfielder Cooper Hext drove in a pair of runs with a single to center in the big inning.

    “Getting out to a lead was big for us,” said Hill. “We were able to add on as well.”

    The Cowboys knocked out Tyler Bryan after just 1⅓, who was making just his fourth start of the season. Bryan saw his record fall to 1-3 with the loss.

    Bo Willis hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the second to cut into the McNeese lead but the Demons (22-32) could never get any closer. It was Willis’ eighth homer of the season.

    McNeese added a run in the seventh as Hollins doubled and pinch runner Dean Bitner later scored on an error to give the Cowboys an 8-2 lead. It was the fourth time Hollins reached base, as he had two hits and walked twice in his return to the lineup after missing a pair of games with an injury.

    Daniel Burroway’s two-run homer cut the lead to 8-4 and sent McNeese starter Zach Voss to the showers. Voss worked six innings allowing four runs on just four hits, but two were homers.

    Voss improved to 2-5 with the win. Ty Abraham worked two innings and Cameron LeJuene got the last three outs.

    “Zach Voss gave us a great start against a really good offensive team and we knew how good they are,” said Hill. “He is resilient. His record may not be great but our guys have confidence when he is out there.”

    The Cowboys added a pair of insurance runs in the ninth on an error and sacrifice fly to end any thoughts of a Demons comeback, though they did score a run.

    Northwestern State will play at 9 a.m. again on Thursday, this time against UIW in an elimination game.

    The Cowboys guaranteed they will stick around Hammond until at least Friday.

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