NATCHITOCHES – Saturday was for the Northwestern State baseball team’s seniors.
After suffering a nine-run loss Friday night to No. 23 McNeese, the Demons got a pair of home runs from senior third baseman Matthew Alford and a strong outing from senior right-hander Evan Tidwell in a 7-4 Southland Conference victory against the Cowboys at Brown-Stroud Field.
“They responded,” first-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “We bounced back today. It was a similar game early. We had them out there, and we got the big hit. Cade Jones had a big double, and Matty comes up with the big three-run home run to give us some breathing room.”
The Demons (13-24, 5-12) won for the third time in four games as Alford and fellow senior Regan Kaufman combined for five RBIs on a day the Demons honored the 1957 and 1967 Gulf States Conference championship teams and the 1997 Southland Conference champs.
Alford gave Northwestern State its first multi-home run game since Cort Brinson homered twice against Southeastern Louisiana on April 3, 2015. Alford capped a six-run third inning with a three-run home run off McNeese right-hander Rhett Deaton (6-1).
Alford’s first-pitch home run off Deaton came one pitch after Jones’ two-run double off the glove of diving right fielder Ricky Ramirez Jr. had given Northwestern State a 3-0 lead.
“I’ve been struggling lately so it felt good to get a couple of good swings,” said Alford, who finished 2-for-3 with a career-high four home runs. “I was seeing the ball well. It felt good. It’s been a struggle this year. You’ve got to put it through your mind to go out there and square it up.”
Tidwell (2-5) danced in and out of trouble in the first three innings, keeping McNeese (27-11, 17-3) at bay long enough for the Demons’ offense to post its second-highest-scoring inning of conference play.
The senior right-hander kept the Cowboys scoreless through six-plus innings before McNeese scratched out two runs against Tidwell and relievers Devin Bear and Kyle Swanson in the seventh inning.
Tidwell overcame a career-high six walks by inducing a pair of double plays. The three Demons pitchers combined to strand 16 Cowboys runners.
“I had some good stuff today,” said Tidwell, whose 215 2-3 career innings moved him into 10th place all-time in NSU career history. “My change-up was diving hard. Credit to them, they were patient. They had a good approach at the plate. We were able to get some weak contact to keep just two runs on the board.”
Swanson stranded the bases loaded in the seventh after the Cowboys pushed across two runs. After the seventh-inning stretch, Alford had an answer, welcoming McNeese reliever Tyler Wesley with a solo home run to re-establish a five-run Demons lead.
“That was huge,” Barbier said. “It’s demoralizing as an opposing team when you battle to get a couple of runs, and they come up and get the big hit with the homer. It was good to see it on our side this time.”
Alford’s second home run loomed large as the Cowboys scored single runs in the eighth and ninth innings before Swanson stranded runners on second and third by getting Will Fox to ground out to second.
Swanson worked the final 2 1-3 innings to convert his team-high fourth save of the season.
The series concludes with a 1 p.m. matchup Sunday. Right-hander Cullen McDonald (0-1, 5.02) will make the first Southland Conference start of his career for Northwestern State while McNeese will counter with right-hander Aidan Anderson (3-2, 6.99).
Northwestern State 7, No. 23 McNeese 4
McNeese 000 000 211 – 4 10 2
NSU 006 000 10x – 7 7 0
W – Evan Tidwell (2-5). L – Rhett Deaton (6-1). S – Kyle Swanson (4). 2B – McN, Brett Whelton. NSU, Cade Jones 2. HR – McN, Shane Selman (9). NSU, Matthew Alford 2 (4). Highlights: McN, Matt Gallier 2-3, RBI; Whelton 2-4, 2B. NSU, Spencer Goodwin 2-3; Jones 2-4, 2 2Bs, 2 RBIs; Alford 2-3, 2 HRs, 4 RBIs.
Records: McNeese 27-11, 17-3; Northwestern State 13-24, 5-12.