All that stood between Texas State and a win Friday night was itself.
If the Bobcats recorded three outs before they got in their own way, another crisis would be averted and they'd earn a confidence-building win. Through eight innings, Texas State did just that and held a five-run lead over Northern Kentucky.
A game, however, is nine innings — and the Bobcats haven't learned yet how to put together a complete game on a consistent basis.
Those outs came, but not before the Norse handed Texas State a humiliating loss. NKU, in its first season as a Division I program, walked out of Bobcat Ballpark with a 6-5 win after scoring six runs in the ninth off three Bobcat pitchers.
With the loss, Texas State dropped to 2-7. That's the worst start in head coach Ty Harrington’s 14 years with the program, eclipsing the 2006 season where his Bobcats went 3-6.
"This team is trying to get on the winning track and we played the process of eight innings of not-bad baseball; but up 5-0, you have to go out and get three outs," Harrington said. "It's a tough lesson in baseball that if you don't take care of your business when you get opportunities, this is what can happen to you. That's exactly what just happened to us."
Other the performances of those three pitchers (redshirt freshman Austin Boes, freshman Jack Finnegan, sophomore Austen Williams) and senior third baseman Nick Smelser’s ugly throw in the ninth (pulled junior Austin O'Neal off the bag, which led to a run), Texas State had more to cheer about than boo.
After two uninspired innings, the Bobcats' beleaguered offense showed signs of life. Texas State knocked Norse starting pitcher Blake Bagshaw around for five runs on four hits, punctuated by an RBI single by senior outfielder Morgan Mickan (who had been hitting .111) and junior catcher Tyler Pearson’s two-run double.
The Bobcats didn't score a run the rest of the way and left four on base.
"It's been a problem for this team that we haven't been able to create offense," Harrington said. "We got some singles and did some things, but only scored five runs in one inning and nothing else."
Before the fateful ninth, Texas State got a trio of solid pitching performances from junior starter Kyle Finnegan, freshman reliever Lucas Humpal and junior reliever Hunter Lemke. Finnegan struck out six in his six-inning stint, Humpal didn't allow a run in the seventh and Lemke, who battled his own struggles through the first eight games, struck out the side in the eighth after walking the leadoff batter.
"We talked about it (keeping Lemke in the game), but he's thrown a few days now and sometimes when a guy has success, you want him to come out to carry that momentum with him," Harrington said. "Obviously, now, it's easy to say we should have run him out there again."
Once Harrington pulled Lemke in favor of Jack Finnegan, it all began to unravel. NKU notched two quick runs and before the Bobcats knew it, they were well on their way to another disheartening loss.