The way Southeastern Louisiana’s season ended Monday didn’t match the feats to which the program climbed in 2016.
Coming into the Baton Rouge regional armed with the nation’s sixth-best team ERA and led offensively by the nation’s top hitter in Jameson Fisher, the Lions had big dreams of parlaying their first-ever at-large bid into a deep NCAA tournament run.
SLU beat Utah Valley 3-2 Sunday, but unfortunately for the Lions that victory was sandwiched by a pair of lopsided losses to Rice.
The Owls beat SLU 7-2 Sunday in a weather-suspended game that started Saturday and then eliminated the Lions with a sound 15-0 thrashing Monday.
SLU’s season ended at 40-21. Rice advanced to the regional championship round against LSU later Monday.
There was disappointment for the Lions, but like the sun that aptly shined for much of the game’s 1-hour, 37-minute weather delay there was still plenty to be proud of.
After going 42-17 last season, SLU can boast of back-to-back 40-win seasons for the first time in program history, a program that appears to be on the rise under third-year coach Matt Riser.
“I remember sitting at this podium two years ago saying we took this program to another level,” Riser said. “And we did. It’s the same feeling now.
“But we’re not content with this. This isn’t a good feeling. One team is happy at the end of the year. I want to be that team.”
After a scoreless first inning, the Owls chased SLU starter Kyle Cedotal (5-5) with a four-run second. A parade of Lions relievers were unable to stop the Rice offensive onslaught, especially from the bottom third of the Owls’ order.
Rice’s 7, 8 and 9 starting hitters — Grayson Lewis, Ryan Chandler and Hunter Kopycinski — combined to go a torrid 9-for-11 with eight RBIs and eight runs.
Kopycinski, the Rice catcher, went 3-for-3 with two doubles, five RBIs and two runs before he was lifted in the sixth to rest for the rematch with LSU.
Meanwhile, Rice starter Ricardo Salinas (9-2) limited the Lions to just three hits over 7.1 innings.
“He commanded the strike zone,” Fisher said. “Threw really good pitches. We didn’t have an answer for it.”
It was a disappointing end to a hot-hitting season for Fisher, who entered the regional with a Division I-best .437 average. He was 0-for-3 Monday with a walk and a combined 1-for-8 in the regional with three walks and a run. His season-ending average: .424.
“It’s definitely not the way you want to go out,” said an emotional Fisher, who stopped just short of saying he would definitely turn pro after seeing where he goes when the major league draft starts Thursday.
“I can’t thank everyone at Southeastern enough for what they’ve done for me.”
After this season, SLU will probably want to thank this team right back.