NATCHITOCHES – For a freshman, Northwestern State freshman shortstop Caleb Ricca has quite a flair for the dramatic.
Ricca’s first career home run came on the first pitch of a mid-week game in April at ULM. He topped that one easily Saturday afternoon, drilling a two-out, walk-off grand slam to lift the Demons to a 10-7 Southland Conference victory against Incarnate Word at Brown-Stroud Field.
“I got a good pitch to hit,” said Ricca, who finished the day 2-for-3 with a career-high six RBIs. “I told coach before I went up that I was going to walk it off. I had the chance earlier in the year, failed and learned from it. I did what I had to do.”
Ricca’s drive to left field capped a six-run ninth inning for the Demons (17-28, 7-16), won earned their first win of the season when trailing after eight innings. Before Saturday, NSU had been 0-22 in those situations before Saturday.
NSU trailed 7-4 entering the ninth before the Cardinals (19-28, 7-16) saw their bullpen fail them.
Right-hander Cody Allen (3-2) struck out David Fry to start the ninth before walking Cade Jones on five pitches. Matthew Alford followed by hooking a double to left field. Freshman Lenni Kunert drew a walk on a full-count pitch to load the bases.
Another freshman, Tyler Smith, followed with a two-run double that pulled the Demons within one and ended Allen’s day.
UIW turned to closer Lance Moszkowicz, who issued an intentional walk to freshman Emile Lege to load the bases before striking out Hunter Uzzle for the second out.
Ricca laid off two Moszkowicz sliders before turning on a fastball for the Demons’ second walk-off home run of the season.
“It’s them maturing,” first-year head coach Bobby Barbier said of his four freshmen in the lineup. “You can see it in at-bats like (Ricca) had. He took two sliders to get into a good count where he could do that. Tyler Smith had a really bad at-bat the time before, then came back with a big double to put the tying run at third base. Those guys are really growing up.”
Ricca’s home run made a winner of reliever Devin Bear (3-0), who worked 1 2-3 scoreless innings. Bear induced a pair of double plays, including one immediately after issuing a leadoff walk in the ninth.
Bear and Dan Hlad worked three scoreless innings of relief, dancing around six walks by holding the Cardinals to one hit.
That relief work allowed the Demons to rally from their second three-run deficit of the day.
NSU trailed 6-1 after Incarnate Word scored five times in the fourth against starter Evan Tidwell before Ricca delivered his first big hit of the game – a two-run single in the bottom of the fourth.
“They’re not going to stop fighting,” Barbier said. “The homer gets all of the pub, but Caleb’s two-run single, I thought that was huge. We cut into that lead right away.”
A day after being held to two hits in a 2-0 series-opening loss, the Demons rapped out 13 hits, including three from Alford. Alford, Ricca, Jones and Lege all had multi-hit games with Lege collecting the first two-hit game of his career.
The four freshmen in the Demons’ lineup combined to go 6-for-15 with seven runs scored and eight RBIs, including driving in all six in the ninth-inning rally.
“We had quality at-bats late, and that’s what really won us the game,” Ricca said. “Guys had great ABs. We’re growing. We do a lot of dumb things, but we’re growing. We’re working every day to get better.”
The series concludes with a 1 p.m. matinee Sunday. The Demons will start sophomore right-hander Cullen McDonald (0-2, 4.71) against UIW right-hander Tyler Lesley (0-4, 9.47).
Northwestern State 10, Incarnate Word 7
UIW 010 501 000 – 7 7 3
NSU 010 201 006 – 10 13 3
W – Devin Bear (3-0). L – Cody Allen (3-2). 2B – UIW, Lee Thomas; Kyler Genenbacher. NSU, David Fry; Matthew Alford; Tyler Smith. HR – UIW, Garrett Terrell (2); NSU, Caleb Ricca (2). Highlights: UIW, Thomas 2-5, 2B; NSU, Cade Jones 2-4; Alford 3-5, 2B; Emile Lege 2-4; Ricca 2-3, HR, 6 RBIs.
Records: Incarnate Word 19-28, 7-16; Northwestern State 17-28, 7-16.