NATCHITOCHES – Back at home, the Northwestern State baseball team shook off its Friday night blues and started Southland Conference play on a positive note.
Thanks to a five-run fifth inning, the Demons built a seven-run lead and held on for an 8-5 victory against Nicholls in the league opener for both teams.
“We did a lot of really good things early in the game,” first-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “Their arm (Cole Stapler) is probably the best arm we’ve faced this year. He was really good. We had to fight him. We had some fortune, but we moved the ball early with two strikes and sometimes that leads to good fortune.”
After winning one of five games on a road trip to Kansas, Northwestern State (5-8, 1-0) jumped out to a fast start against Stapler (1-2), who entered the game with a 1.42 ERA.
David Fry doubled home a run in the opening inning and Matt Valdez muscled a two-out RBI single through the right side in the second inning.
Leading 3-1 after four innings, the Demons took advantage of some good fortune provided by their own hustle and by the Colonels (7-6, 0-1).
With two outs and runners on first and second, Kelsey Richard checked his swing and hit a roller toward third base. Fry never stopped running from second base and when Troy Cahill’s throw short-hopped first baseman Gage Teer, it allowed Fry to score and give NSU a three-run lead.
It was then Stapler’s and Nicholls’ turn to give the Demons a break.
Emile Lege followed Richard’s roller by hitting a towering fly ball between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. None of the Colonels’ infielders got much of a read on the ball, leaving Stapler to try to make the catch.
The ball tailed back toward the mound and over Stapler’s head for an RBI double and the first hit of Lege’s career.
Fellow freshman outfielder Tyler Smith followed with a two-run single and Regan Kaufman ended the five-run, two-out outburst with an RBI single, knocking Stapler from the game after giving up eight runs in 4 2-3 innings.
“We hadn’t been playing well,” Barbier said. “We talked about we as a team changing that bad play and changing our fortune. We relaxed. We’re back home. It was nice to see some of those young guys producing. We had four RBIs from two freshman outfielders and Austin (Townsend) had two doubles. Guys who are getting opportunities are taking advantage of them. It’s nice to see.”
The big inning gave right-hander Nathan Jones (1-2) a seven-run cushion.
Jones tossed a career-long 6 2-3 innings, working around five walks and eight hits to allow just two runs.
He was aided by three double plays, including an inning-ending gem started by Fry at second base in the fifth.
With Nicholls putting on a hit and run, Fry was covering second base but was able to stop his momentum and field the ball and flip it with his glove to shortstop Matthew Alford, who completed the inning-ending double play.
“The defense and the hitters especially had my back,” Jones said. “You pretty much have to give them all the credit for this game. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
While the Demons were quiet against a trio of Nicholls relievers, the Colonels scored four times across the seventh, eighth and ninth innings before Kyle Swanson got Ethan Valdez to fly out to left field as the tying run for the game-clinching out.
“One thing we talk about as a team is not holding on,” Barbier said. “You can’t take a knee in baseball. You’ve got to attack the game and keep attacking, even with a lead. We’re learning. We’re learning to become a team that can do some of those things.”
Fry, Townsend, Smith and Matt Valdez each had two hits as the Demons tallied 11 on the night. Townsend had two of NSU’s four doubles while Lege and Smith each had a pair of RBIs.
Alex Tucker paced Nicholls with a 3-for-5 performance while Justin Holt went 2-for-2 and drew three walks.
The series continues at 11 a.m. Saturday when Northwestern State sends John Carter Sanner (1-0, 4.70) to the mound against Nicholls right-hander Cayden Hatcher (0-1, 7.24). The game has been moved up from its original 2 p.m. start time because of the threat of rain later Saturday afternoon.
Northwestern State 8, Nicholls 5
Nicholls 010 000 121 – 5 12 1
Northwestern State 110 150 00x – 8 11 1
W – Nathan Jones (1-2). L – Cole Stapler (1-2). 2B – NICH, Chet Niehaus; Gage Teer; Justin Holt; Alex Tucker. NWST, David Fry; Austin Townsend 2; Emile Lege. Highlights: NICH, Holt 2-2, 2B; Tucker 3-5, 2B, RBI; Troy Cahill 2-4, 2 RBIs. NWST, Matt Valdez 2-5, RBI; Fry 2-5, 2B, RBI; Townsend 2-3, 2 2Bs; Lege 2B, 2 RBIs; Tyler Smith 2-2, 2 RBIs.
Records: Nicholls 7-6, 0-1; Northwestern State 5-8, 1-0.