NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State baseball team expanded its offense Tuesday night by shrinking the field.
The Demons used five bunt singles to build an early lead and then broke it open with six doubles in an 11-1 win in the opener of a two-game, mid-week series against Mississippi Valley State at Brown-Stroud Field.
“It was nice to win a different way,” first-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “We used the bunt game today. We had five bunt base hits. It was good to use that and have that tool in our arsenal. A good offense can extend the field vertically. It can hit the ball in the gaps, and it can make them play in on the corners and open up the holes with the bunt game.”
Led by those five bunt singles, the Demons (14-25) set a season high with 17 hits and won for the fourth time in their past six games.
Five NSU players recorded multiple hits, led by Spencer Goodwin’s career-high, 4-for-6 performance. Goodwin had two of the bunt singles, including the third of three straight that loaded the bases in a two-run Demons second inning.
“We used the small ball a little more than we have this year,” Goodwin said. “You’ve got to take what they give you and exploit weaknesses. We worked on it and did a good job of it tonight.”
After Mississippi Valley State starter Jackson Webb (0-5) retired the first two batters of the game, he hit Cade Jones with a pitch and Matthew Alford followed with a run-scoring double.
The Demons added a pair of runs in the second inning, giving Dan Hlad (1-2) an early cushion.
Hlad responded with the best outing of his Northwestern State career, tossing seven innings without allowing an earned run. From the second through the sixth innings, Hlad retired 14 in a row to earn his first win as a Demon.
“The problem was I hadn’t been filling up the zone,” said Hlad, who threw 75 of his 109 pitches for strikes. “I filled up the zone today. I trusted in my guys. They made plays all day long. Everybody got involved. It’s nice to get the win personally, but the team win means even more.”
The Demons led 4-0 after stranding the bases loaded in the fifth before putting the game away with a seven-run, 12-batter sixth inning against relievers Dustin Stewart and Aaron Barkley.
Kelsey Richard delivered the key swing in the inning, driving a bases-clearing double off the left-field wall.
Hlad’s outing saved a Demons bullpen that has been beset by injuries.
After Hlad’s seven innings of work, Barbier turned to freshman designated hitter/infielder Lenni Kunert to make his collegiate pitching debut. Kunert tossed two scoreless, hitless innings, working around two two-out walks in the ninth.
Kunert struck out three batters, including the first two he faced.
“Coach told me to go the bullpen, and I felt the butterflies,” said Kunert, who pitched for the first time since the state championship game in his senior year of high school. “With a nice lead, all I had to do was go in and throw strikes. I threw a bullpen the other day and felt well. I told them, ‘Let’s do this thing, and let’s see what I have.’”
Hlad and Kunert were backed by multi-hit performances by Goodwin, David Fry (2-for-4), Alford (2-for-5), Miller Parker (3-for-4) and Caleb Ricca (2-for-3).
Ricca and Cade Jones each drove in a pair of runs, joining Richard with multi-RBI games.
The series concludes with a noon first pitch Wednesday. Senior right-hander Evan Tidwell (2-5, 6.04) will start for the Demons while Mississippi Valley State has yet to name a starter.
Northwestern State 11, Mississippi Valley State 1
MVSU 000 000 100 – 1 5 2
NSU 120 107 00x – 11 17 1
W – Dan Hlad (1-2). L – Jackson Webb (0-5). 2B – NSU, Spencer Goodwin; David Fry; Matthew Alford; Kelsey Richard; Kwanstan Adkins; Emile Lege. Highlights: MVSU, Marshall Parrish 2-3. NSU, Goodwin 4-6, 2B; Fry 2-4, 2B, RBI; Alford 2-5, RBI; Miller Parker 3-4, RBI; Caleb Ricca 2-3, 2 RBIs.
Records: MVSU 6-28; Northwestern State 14-25.