HAMMOND – Six days ago, the Northwestern State baseball team watched a ninth-inning lead disappear in the final game of a Southland Conference series.
The tough lessons learned in Nacogdoches, Texas, quickly paid dividends Saturday as the Demons rallied for a 6-4 Southland Conference victory at Southeastern Louisiana.
“That was the same game almost,” first-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “(At Stephen F. Austin), we didn’t extend the lead. Today, we get the homer from Dave (Fry) to extend the lead. That took the air out of their sails a little bit. They’ve got (Taylor) Schwaner coming up, and if he’s at the plate in a one-run game, the lead’s not really safe with the way he’s swinging the bat.”
By successfully holding on to a late lead, the Demons (11-23, 4-11) snapped a five-game losing streak and a seven-game conference skid.
For five-plus innings, it appeared Northwestern State was headed for a second straight conference sweep. The Lions (22-13, 10-8) jumped to a 4-0 lead after four innings and had runners on first and second with no outs in the fifth inning when Barbier turned to sophomore right-hander Kyle Swanson.
Swanson (2-2) loaded the bases with one out before escaping the jam. From there, he only got stronger, allowing just two hits while tossing five shutout innings of relief to even his season record.
Less than a week after being tagged with the loss in the series finale at Stephen F. Austin, Swanson kept the game close then locked down on a one-run lead in the seventh and eighth innings, stranding the tying run at third in the eighth.
“Not much really changed,” said Swanson, who became the third different Demons reliever to toss five scoreless innings in an appearance this season. “I just go out and compete, and they made plays behind me. When they make those plays, it’s hard not to have faith in them.”
While the Demons defense made all the plays in an error-free game, the Lions committed four errors, none more costly than two made by Brennan Breaud in the sixth inning.
Breaud overthrew first base on a Matthew Alford grounder to start the inning and, after a Kelsey Richard walk and a balk on Drew Avans (1-2), Breaud threw high on a Cade Jones ground ball, allowing Alford and Richard to score and cut the lead to 4-2.
An inning later, Northwestern State got the big hit it had been looking for all weekend.
Barbier called on pinch-hitter Regan Kaufman with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh when Southeastern Louisiana went to right-hander Josh Green.
Kaufman, who had a walkoff home run against ULM on April 5 and a go-ahead, eighth-inning double at Stephen F. Austin on Sunday, delivered in another close-and-late situation, smoking a ground-ball double to right center that cleared the bases and gave NSU its first lead of the game at 5-4.
“I really try to slow everything down and realize it’s a game of failure,” Kaufman said. “I just try to put my best swing and my best at-bat together.”
Given a lead, the Demons held on this time thanks to airtight defense and a career-long outing from Swanson.
Two of those plays were made by freshman shortstop Caleb Ricca, including a ball deep in the hole to end the eighth inning and preserve NSU’s one-run lead.
Fry gave his reliever an extra cushion by drilling his ninth homer of the season to left field with one out in the ninth.
“We’re learning,” Barbier said. “Caleb attacked those balls. They’re learning as we go. I’m really proud of them for fighting today. They gave us a window with an error, and we took advantage. In the past, we would have sat on those two runs. Today, we kept having good at-bats.”
Northwestern State 6, Southeastern Louisiana 4
NSU 000 002 301 – 6 9 0
SLU 011 200 000 – 4 6 4
W – Kyle Swanson (2-2). L – Drew Avans (1-2). 2B – NSU, Tyler Smith; Regan Kaufman; Cade Jones. HR – NSU, David Fry (9). SLU, Derrick Mount (3). Highlights: NSU, Fry 3-5, HR, RBI; Kaufman 2B, 3 RBIs. SLU, Mount 2-3, HR, RBI; Daniel Wasinger 2-4.
Records: Northwestern State 11-23, 4-11; Southeastern Louisiana 22-13, 10-8.