LAKE CHARLES, La. – The No. 2 seed Southeastern Louisiana University baseball team jumped out to an early lead and never looked back on the way to an 11-7 victory over top-seeded McNeese in the deciding game of the best-of-three Southland Conference Baseball Championship Series Saturday night at Joe Miller Ballpark.

Southeastern (30-29) continued to thrive with its back against the wall and improved to 6-0 in elimination games this postseason with Saturday’s convincing win. The conference tournament title is the first for SLU since 2014 and will send the Lions back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017. The 64-team field will be announced on Monday at 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2.

The Lions took the most arduous route to their sixth regional appearance as a Division I member, including their fourth under ninth-year head coach Matt Riser, dropping the first game of both bracket play and the championship series. But Southeastern never blinked, having been in a win-or-else mode for the better part of the season after a rough 8-18 start, including an 0-4 hole in league action.

But Riser’s Lions came together at the right time, recording a 22-11 record after the bad first third of the season and going 13-6 down the stretch after being swept by McNeese in Lake Charles in late April.

The SLU offense propelled the turnaround, as Southeastern finished the regular season with the league’s lowest batting average, but had the highest team batting average during the postseason. Saturday was no exception.

Shea Thomas and Tyler Finke drove in three runs apiece, while Tristan Welch, Preston Faulkner and Thomas led the way with three RBI each to highlight a 14-hit Southeastern attack. Saturday’s output was a capper for a Lion offense that exploded for 83 runs over the eight-game tournament.

As a result of the offensive onslaught, the top four batters in the SLU lineup all earned Southland Conference All-Tournament honors with Faulkner running away with MVP honors. He was joined on the all-tournament team by Thomas, Evan Keller and Rhett Rosevear.

The final Southeastern representative of the all-tournament team was Gage Trahan, who recorded the final three outs to secure Saturday’s win. SLU ace Will Kinzeler set the tone on the mound for the Lions, gutting his way through two shutout innings to start.

Hunter O’Toole, Hayden Robb, Dalton Aspholm and Trahan followed to keep the Cowboys from matching the Lion offensive fireworks. O’Toole (4-4) worked four innings in relief, striking out four and allowing two runs to earn the victory.

Southeastern jumped out to an early lead in the top of the first versus Chance Stone. Thomas doubled home the inning’s first run, then Finke plated two more with a double of his own to stake the Lions to a 3-0 advantage.

SLU looked poised to add to its cushion in the top of the second inning. A pair of errors and an intentional walk issued to Faulkner loaded the bases for Southeastern with one out, but reliever Christian Vega struck out Thomas and Finke to keep the Lion lead at 3-0.

The Lions stranded a pair in the third, before heads up base running by Rosevear padded the lead in the top of the fourth. Rosevear led off the frame with a single, then stole second and moved to third when Cowboy catcher Andruw Gonzales’ throw down skipped into the outfield.

Vega then struck out Thomas, but the pitch got away from Gonzales forcing a throw down to first. Rosevear sensed the opportunity and stole home on the throw down to first to put Southeastern up, 4-0.

Kinzeler and O’Toole combined to shut out McNeese through the first three innings, before the Cowboys broke through in the bottom of the fourth. Brad Burckel led off the frame with a double, then scored on an RBI single by Josh Leslie to cut the Lion lead to 4-1.

McNeese reliever Cameron Foster and O’Toole matched 1-2-3 fifth innings, before SLU got to Foster in the sixth. Faulkner singled, stole second and scored on a two-out RBI single to Finke. Foster then hit Pierce Leavengood before issuing consecutive walks to Christian Garcia and Welch to force in another run and increase the Lion lead to 6-1.

The Cowboys got a run back off O’Toole in the bottom of the sixth inning. Burckel powered a solo home run over the left-field fence to cut the deficit to 6-2.

Southeastern answered in the top of the seventh inning. Keller drew a leadoff walk and one out later the Lions had a pair in scoring position after a double by Faulkner. Thomas followed with a sharp single up the middle to plate both SLU base runners and stretch the Southeastern advantage to 8-2.

McNeese answered back with two runs of its own off Robb in the bottom of the seventh. Payton Harden and Kade Hunter each drove in runs to pull the Cowboys within, 8-4.

Southeastern added insurance runs in the ninth. A two-run double by Garcia forced in the inning’s first two runs, then he came home on a single through the left side by Welch that sent the Lions into the bottom of the ninth with an 11-4 lead.

Those three runs would prove important as the two-time defending Southland Conference Tournament champion Cowboys would not go away with a whimper. McNeese scored three runs, before Trahan forced Leslie to pop out for the final out and the tournament victory.

Following Monday’s selection show, join Riser and Allen Waddell at Pour House Pizza and Beer Garden for the latest episode of Inside Southeastern Baseball with Matt Riser. Pour House is located at 505 W. Thomas St. in Hammond. The show will be heard online at www.LionSports.net/ListenLive.

LIONS GAMEDAY EXPERIENCE APP

The Lions Gameday Experience app puts audio, stats, video, social media and more in the hands of fans. Those in attendance can also check in to earn reward points redeemable for Southeastern-related prizes. Available for both Android and iOS devices, it can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play or by visiting www.LionSports.net/App.

DIAMOND CLUB / S CLUB

Fans interested in becoming active supporters of the baseball program are encouraged to join the Diamond Club. Lion baseball alums are encouraged to join the exclusive S Club, which is restricted to Southeastern athletic letter winners. All membership fees and donations to both the Diamond Club and S Club (baseball) are available for the exclusive use of the Southeastern baseball program. Membership information is available by contacting the Lion Athletics Association at laa@southeastern.edu or (985) 549-5091 or by visiting www.LionUp.com.

SOCIAL MEDIA

For more information on Lions Baseball, follow @LionUpBaseball or @MattRiser17 on Twitter, @LionUpBaseball on Instagram and Facebook, and subscribe to the SLUathletics YouTube channel.

LINE SCORE

SLU  – 300 102 203 – 11  14  1  (30-29)

MCN – 000 101 203 –  7  12  4  (34-23)

Will Kinzeler, Hunter O’Toole (6), Hayden Robb (7), Dalton Aspholm (8), Gage Trahan (9) and Bryce Grizzaffi. Chance Stone, Christian Vega (1), Cameron Foster (5), Ty Abraham (7), Burrell Jones (7), Andrew Sheridan (8), Daniel Hecker (9) and Andruw Gonzales.

W – O’Toole (4-4). L – Stone (3-3). HR – MCN: Brad Burckel 2 (10). 2B – SLU: Shea Thomas (12), Tyler Finke (8), Preston Faulkner (18), Christian Garcia (8); MCN: Brad Burckel (17). T – 3:48. A – 1,223

2022 SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM

Preston Faulkner, 1B, Southeastern (Most Valuable Player)

Evan Keller, SS, Southeastern

Rhett Rosevear, 2B, Southeastern

Shea Thomas, 3B, Southeastern

Gage Trahan, P, Southeastern

Cameron Foster, P, McNeese

Brad Burckel, 2B, McNeese

Tyler Stone, P, McNeese

Payton Harden, CF, McNeese

Julian Gonzales, LF, McNeese

Michael Useche, C, New Orleans

Tre Jones, DH, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

{Courtesy: release from Southeastern}