For the first 20 innings of the season’s final homestand, Cowboy pitching was under attack.
Having given up 25 runs in those frames, including four in the first Sunday, McNeese State turned to the only left-hander on its staff.
And little used Zane Zeppuhar delivered.
Zeppuhar stopped the carnage and restored order for the Cowboys, who rallied for a 10-4 desperation victory Sunday over Northwestern State in Joe Miller Ballpark.
The win not only salvaged the final game of the Southland Conference series but kept the Cowboys with a share of first place with just three games remaining.
At 12-9, 27-21, McNeese is tied with Southeastern, and a game up on four others with one series left. The Pokes hold the tiebreaker over Southeastern with the league’s top two teams earning home tourney spots for the postseason.
“It was a crazy weekend and a big game,” said McNeese head coach Justin Hill. “All these games were big. Glad we got one.”
Zeppuhar, who entered the game with just over nine innings on the mound, allowed one hit over 52/3, striking out six to earn his first win of the season.
Freshman Daniel Hecker got the seven outs, striking out the side in the ninth.
“I just went out there and tried to execute my pitches,” said Zeppuhar. “I wanted to let my stuff work.”
It did as Zeppuhar and Hecker allowed just two hits over the last eight innings after the Demons had been pounding the baseball all around Lake Charles.
“Just have to give our guys a chance to get back in the game,” said Zeppuhar. “It was a big win for us.”
Once the pitching got straight McNeese’s offense caught fire. Josh Leslie hit a pair of home runs, his fifth and sixth of the season, and Cooper Hext and Reid Bourque added solo shots.
“We knew we had to come out and be aggressive,” said Leslie. “Even when we were down by four runs, we have been coming back all year. This team is used to that.”
Hext, who was starting for the injured Payton Harden in center, produced McNeese’s first score of the game with his blast to right to open the bottom of the third, his second of the year.
Leslie’s first homer was a two-run shot in the fourth, his second, a two-runner, came in the fifth. Bourque’s fourth of the season came three batters before Leslie’s second shot.
During one stretch, the Cowboys hit four homers in 16 batters.
“Getting back in the game was big,” said Leslie. “We have confidence in our offense. We got some momentum and now we have to keep going.”
Leslie finished with four runs batted in while Bourque, Hext and Braden Duhon all had two hits. Bourque finished the weekend with six hits.
After a sixth two-run, McNeese led 9-4, adding a final run in the eighth. On the weekend the teams combine to hit 14 home runs, seven each.
Things looked bleak early as the Demons got off to yet another fast start.
Bo Willis’ 3-run homer in the first capped a 4-run inning. It was Willis’ ninth home run ninth of the season and had Northwestern thinking sweep.
But that’s when Zeppuhar stepped in and saved the day.
“You change the pitcher and you change the game one way or the other,” Hill said. “Sometimes you throw gas on the fire, sometimes you put it out.”
On Sunday Zeppuhar put out the flames just in time to maybe win a title.