McNeese drops opener, 6-5, to Indiana State at Nashville Regional

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Nate Fisbeck

NASHVILLE – It came down to one crucial swing of the bat, and unfortunately for the McNeese Cowboys, that swing came from Indiana State first baseman Dane Tofteland when his two-out, two-strike home run in the bottom of the fifth inning erased a top of the inning rally by the Cowboys and helped lift the No. 2 seeded Sycamores to a 6-5 win over McNeese in the opening game of the 2019 NCAA Baseball Nashville Regional here Friday.

McNeese will next play the loser of the No. 1-seed Vanderbilt/No. 4 Ohio State game at noon on Saturday in an elimination game.

“To open up the tournament, that was a pretty entertaining college baseball game,” said Hill. “There was a little bit of everything. I think there was some good pitching, especially late in the ball game; some really good offense, base running, defense and no errors by either team.

“I thought the story of the game was that they made one more play than we did.”

Trailing 4-1 going into the fifth inning, McNeese responded with three runs to tie the game 4-4. The rally was started by a lead-off single by catcher Dustin Duhon then followed by a one-out single from left fielder Payton Harden.

Nate Fisbeck followed with a two-run triple to close the gap to 4-3 and then tied the game when he scored off a Clayton Rasbeary sacrifice fly to right field.

McNeese (35-25) got the first two outs of the bottom of the fifth with reliever Bryan King on the mound, but then a single by ISU’s Max Wright forced Cowboy head coach Justin Hill’s hand to bring in the righty Peyton McLemore against the right-handed hitter in Tofteland.

Tofteland sent a hanging pitch by McLemore over the left field wall to give the Sycamores a 6-4 lead.

Both teams’ starting pitchers – McNeese’s Aidan Anderson and ISU’s Triston Polley – entered the game with sub-3.00 ERAs so a pitcher’s duel was somewhat expected.

However, both teams’ bats popped the rawhide pretty well, Indiana State finishing with 14 hits while McNeese totaled 12.

“I thought the offense of Indiana State had a really good approach against Aidan,” said Hill. “For him to come out and throw 3 2/3 innings and them get 10 hits and no strike outs, it’s a tribute to their approach.

“I think they had a little bit better bullpen than we did.”

McNeese chased ISU’s starter after Jake Dickerson led off the sixth by getting hit by a pitch. The Sycamores (42-16) brought in Tyler Grauer who pitched the final four innings, allowed just four hits, no runs and struck out five to pick up his ninth save of the season.

The Cowboys closed the gap to 6-5 in the sixth when they loaded the bases with one out. Dickerson scored off a Reid Bourque RBI fielder’s choice but the tying run would be left stranded on third after Harden’s infield grounder rolled into a forced third out at second base.

Cowboy reliever Will Dion, who relieved McLemore in the sixth after the Sycamores got the home run, double and then a walk, and pitched the Cowboys out of the threat by striking out ISU’s Jake Means to end the inning.

Dion threw three straight zeroes on the board in his 3 1/3 innings pitched and gave up just one hit while striking out three.

McNeese attempted to mount a two-out rally in the seventh when Shane Selman and Didkerson posted back-to-back singles before Carson Maxwell popped out for the third out, then in the eighth, Bourque reached on a two-out walk, stole second and then third and was left stranded when Harden grounded out to the pitcher to end the threat.

The Cowboys went down in order in the ninth to end the game.

Polley (8-1) picked up the win for the Sycamores, who will play at 6 p.m. on Saturday in the winner’s bracket game. He threw five innings, gave up five runs on eight hits and struck out six.

Offensively, Fisbeck, Selman, Dickerson and Duhon each collected two hits in the game.

The Sycamores were led at the plate by Means, Wright and Luke Fegen who each had three hits.

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