Baseball wrapped up the first half of its conference schedule at McNeese State over the weekend and avoided getting swept for the third-straight conference series thanks in large part from some strong pitching performances.
The Wildcats entered the weekend against the defending conference champions, fresh off a 16-0 drubbing of Prairie View A&M. But after yielding an RBI single to junior Koby Claborn in the first inning, the Cowboy’s pitching silenced ACU’s bats until the seventh inning.
Not to be outdone, junior Brock Barger came ready for the Wildcats. After giving up an unearned run in the second inning, which tied the game at 1, Barger put together five shutout innings to keep the game tied at one.
But despite taking the lead in top of the seventh on the wild pitch that scored freshman Zach Smith, Barger’s start was undone on a two-run homerun by Mitchell Rogers, which took the score to its final at 3-2.
“This weekend was the first time in a couple of weeks that our pitchers did a good job in the early innings,” Bonneau said. “All of our starters went into the sixth inning or more.”
The second game was much of the same for the Wildcat pitching staff, as junior transfer Garrett Hutson went seven strong innings, striking out nine and allowing just three earned runs. But this time the Wildcat bats came to life, connecting for 15 hits and plating nine runs in the 9-3 victory.
McNeese struck first in the bottom of the second with an RBI single, but ACU scored nine unanswered runs which began when junior transfer Matt Munoz reached on a fielder’s choice to score junior transfer Robert Salazar.
The Wildcats followed that up with two unearned runs to take a 3-1 lead at the end of the fifth. The rest of the damage was done with small ball as ACU racked up six RBI singles, accented by Munoz’s single to left that scored Salazar once again.
Junior transfer Brennan Lewis entered the game in relief for Hutson in the eighth inning and gave up no hits and no runs to shut the door.
“Lewis did a great job out of the bullpen for us,” Bonneau said. “To get a win on the road for us this weekend was huge for us. It’s always been an issue of how deep in the bullpen are we going to go in the first two games? And when you have to go deep into the bullpen early, it just destroys your Sunday.”
Fortunately for the Wildcats, they were able to get three strong starts over the weekend behind Barger, Hutson and junior transfer Jonathan Nicholson, but in the rubber match of the series, it was the Cowboys pulling ahead late.
Nicholson went 5 1/3 innings for ACU, allowing just three hits and three runs, one of which was unearned. Unfortunately Nicholson was tagged with the loss after the Wildcats cut the 3-0 deficit to 3-2 on a Munoz single, but couldn’t muster up anything else.
McNeese added two runs of insurance in the seventh and one in the eighth on a Andre Bryan homerun to seal the game 6-2 and the series 2-1.
After the weekend, ACU sits at .500 with a 15-15 record overall and a 3-12 conference record, but has already matched its season and conference win total than last year. The Wildcats take on Dallas Christian in non-conference action Tuesday night, a team they defeated 11-0 earlier this year. And then they will host Houston Baptist this weekend as the second half of conference gets underway.
“We’ve got a lot of the tough teams behind us,” Bonneau said. “We’re only one or two games out from being in contention for the conference tournament, so we’re definitely not out of it. We are a better team than what our record shows, and I’m expecting some really good things out of our guys moving forward.”
The ninth place team and last place team in the conference are separated by just two games. First pitch for Tuesday night’s matchup is set for 6 p.m.