LAKE CHARLES, La. – Christian Garcia drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the No. 2 seed Southeastern Louisiana University baseball team evened the best-of-three Southland Conference Baseball Championship Series with a 3-2 victory over No. 1 seed McNeese Friday night at Joe Miller Ballpark.

The Lions (29-29) have played their best in 2022 with their backs against the walls and Friday’s win was no exception. SLU improved to 5-0 this postseason in elimination games and sets up a winner-take-all showdown with the Cowboys (34-22) for the tournament title Saturday at 6 p.m.

With the game tied at 2-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth, Preston Faulkner and Shea Thomas opened the frame with consecutive singles, then Tyler Finke dropped down a perfect sacrifice to put a pair in scoring position and chase McNeese reliever Brian Shadrick (1-2).

Davis Burgin came in and promptly walked Champ Artigues to load the bases. Burgin gave way to Christian Vega, who could not find the strike zone either, issuing the free pass to Garcia that allowed the “Cardiac Cats” to survive another day.

Southeastern overcame an early 2-0 deficit due in large part to the efforts on the mound of starter Andrew Landry and reliever Daniel Dugas (4-2). The pair gave up 11 hits to a strong McNeese lineup, but also held the Cowboys to 1-for-11 hitting with runners in scoring position.

Dugas threw 3.1 innings of shutout relief to claim the win, while Landry gave SLU 5.2 strong innings in the start, striking out two and scattering seven hits.

Faulkner continued his historic Southland Tournament at the plate to lead the Lions, reaching base all five times on a 3-for-3 night that included a triple, two walks and two runs scored. SLU’s offensive output on Friday was a total team effort, as every member of the starting nine recorded a hit or an RBI.

Southeastern fell in an early hole in the top of the first against the Cowboys, who were the visitors in Friday’s game two of the series. A two-run, two-out single by Josh Leslie put McNeese up, 2-0, after its first trip to the plate against Landry.  

Landry sat the Cowboys down in order in the second, then stranded a pair of McNeese runners in both the third and fourth innings.

The Lions mounted their first scoring threat against McNeese starter Daniel Hecker in the bottom of the third. Evan Keller beat out an infield single, then Hecker hit Rhett Rosevear and Faulkner to load the bases with two outs. Hecker recovered to strike out Thomas to maintain the Cowboys’ two-run cushion.

In the bottom of the fourth, back-to-back singles by Garcia and Tristan Welch chased Hecker from the game. Zane Zeppuhar walked Bryce Grizzaffi to load the bases again, but recovered to force Keller to line out to left to keep SLU off the board.

Southeastern finally broke through in the bottom of the fifth inning. Faulkner roped a triple just out of the reach of McNeese centerfielder Payton Harden with one out, then Thomas lifted a fly ball deep enough to right for Faulkner to cruise home with SLU’s first run to cut the Cowboy lead to 2-1.

Landry walked consecutive batters with two outs in the sixth to give way to Dugas. Dugas kept Southeastern within one by forcing Braden Duhon to hit a comebacker to the mound for the inning’s final out.

Dugas stranded two more Cowboys in the seventh and the SLU offense came back alive in the bottom of the frame. Keller drew a one-out walk, then Rosevear ripped a double into the right-field corner. After intentionally walking Faulkner, McNeese reliever Burrell Jones struck out Thomas for the second out. Finke then hit a deep fly to left that Julian Gonzales hauled in and the Lions left the bases loaded for the third time, remaining down, 2-1.

The speed of pinch-runner Joe Delaney helped SLU tie it in the bottom of the eighth. Delaney took over on the basepaths after Pierce Leavengood’s leadoff single and promptly stole second. One out later, Welch struck out swinging, but strike three got past Cowboy catcher Andruw Gonzales to put runners at the corners with one out.

Grizzaffi then laid down a bunt and a perfect slide by Delaney evaded the tag and tied the game at 2-2. McNeese reliever Tyler Stone recovered to retire Keller and Rosevear to keep the game knotted headed into the ninth.

The Cowboys got the leadoff runner aboard versus Dugas in their half of the ninth, but Dugas forced Kade Hunter to pop out to Rosevear and then induced an inning-ending double play by Brad Burckel to set up the Lion heroics in the bottom half.

Saturday’s championship game will be televised live on ESPN+ and can 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

MCN – 200 000 000 – 2  11  0  (34-22)

SLU –   000 010 011 – 3  10  0  (29-29)

Daniel Hecker, Zane Zeppuhar (4), Burrell Jones (6), Tyler Stone (8), Brian Shadrick (9), Davis Burgin (9), Christian Vega (9) and Andruw Gonzales. Andrew Landry, Daniel Dugas (6) and Bryce Grizzaffi.

W – Dugas (4-2). L – Shadrick (1-2). 3B – SLU: Preston Faulkner (2). 2B – MCN: Kade Hunter (13), Julian Gonzales (16); SLU: Rhett Rosevear (7). T – 3:02. A – 1,304.

{Courtesy: Southeastern Athletics}