SUGAR LAND, Texas — Sam Roberson had a great view from home plate during the Southland Conference baseball tournament Saturday morning.
The Southeastern Louisiana senior caught 6.2 no-hit innings from Lions starter Domenick Carlini and then delivered the game’s biggest hit: a blast over the left-field fence in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Roberson’s first home run of the year highlighted a 4-1 SLU victory over McNeese State, advancing the Lions to the tournament championship game at Constellation Field.
“I wanted to get something going and got underneath it at the right angle and put it out,” Roberson said. “I’m not a power hitter, but that took way too long to get my first one this year. I like the timing of it at least.”
With the victory, SLU (39-18) will play top-seeded Sam Houston State at noon Sunday, with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament at stake. It will be the Lions’ fourth SLC championship-game appearance in the past five years.
“We have ourselves in the driver’s seat,” SLU coach Matt Riser said. “We did a great job of execution baseball today.”
While Roberson delivered the game’s only home run, it was Carlini (7-2) who held the Cowboys to just one hit. The senior left-hander kept the Cowboys off-balance, allowing just one run, one hit and three walks while striking out three.
“We wanted to come out and give them no hope at all,” Carlini said. “If they won, they would have had all the momentum going into that next game. We wanted to end it right here and bury them.”
After McNeese drew within 2-1 in the top of the seventh, Roberson made sure the Cowboys’ momentum stopped there.
Roberson, who had not homered in 94 at-bats coming into the game, lifted a pitch from McNeese starter Bryan King over the left-field fence to put the Lions back up by two.
“I thought it was gone, but you never know in this wind,” Roberson said. “So I kind of ran too fast to first and tired myself out. But it felt good.”
Added Riser: “He did exactly what a fifth-year senior is supposed to do for us: He knew we needed that counter-punch, and he did it for us.”
Carson Crites was the only player with more than one hit, while Jacob Seward, Ryan Byers and Brennan Breaud each had a hit and an RBI for the Lions.
McNeese (31-25) finished with only two hits. Freshman left-hander Bryan King took the loss, allowing four runs over 6.2 innings.
The Lions got off to a fast start with Seward hitting a team-leading fourth triple down the right-field line. Seward scored seconds later on an RBI double from Byers.
SLU added to the lead in the second inning as Breaud singled in Daniel Midyett.
Joe Provenzano broke up the no-hitter with two outs in the seventh, tripling to deep center. A wild pitch scored Provenzano, breaking up the shutout.
“(Carlini) competed his tail off,” Riser said “Every time I top-stepped, he said ‘No, get back in the dugout. I got this thing.’ ”
Carlini walked the next batter, but Josh Green came in to shut the door, striking out Shane Selman with the tying run on second.
That’s when Roberson came up with the big blast to make it 3-1. Derrick Mount doubled and scored on an RBI groundout by Seward to make it 4-1.
Green pitched the final 2.1 innings to earn the save; the Lions left plenty of fresh arms in the bullpen. Riser did not name a starter for the championship game.
“Having the extra day (after rain pushed the title game to Sunday), we will have time to evaluate everything,” Riser said. “Depending on who we play, we might play to the matchup.”
After getting swept in the final regular-season series and missing out on a chance to win the conference title, SLU appears to have regained its confidence with three straight tournament wins.
“It gives us a lot of momentum,” Carlini said. “We are pretty confident. The gold pants are working, and we are going to be ready tomorrow.”