ABILENE, Texas – Three times this season, the Northwestern State baseball team has drawn double-figure walks in a game.
In each of those games, the Demons turned in a double-figure scoring performance.
The third time came Friday night when Northwestern State converted 12 Abilene Christian walks into a 10-3 Southland Conference series-opening victory at Crutcher Scott Field.
“Their first pitcher (Austin Lambright) had a really good arm, and that was the report on him,” first-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “He was a 90-plus mile per hour left-hander, which you don’t see much in our league. We could have got frustrated not getting the runs in early, but we stuck with the plan of getting him in the strike zone and not swinging at the balls out of the strike zone and Kelsey (Richard) did a great job of cashing in for us.”
After Abilene Christian took a 1-0 lead on Russell Crippen’s leadoff home run against NSU starter Nathan Jones (4-7), the Demons remained patient and worked over Lambright (0-3), who had walked 54 batters in 46 innings prior to Friday’s game.
Lambright continued to struggle with his control, walking seven in three innings. After Lambright wiggled out of trouble in the first two innings, the Demons (19-29, 9-16) made him pay in the third.
David Fry scored from third base on a wild pitch before Richard delivered the first of his two two-run singles to give the Demons a lead they would not relinquish.
Jones settled in after the first inning and the NSU offense added on against the Abilene Christian bullpen, tagging Keaton Brewer for a pair of fourth-inning runs.
After keeping the Wildcats (12-34, 2-23) scoreless from the second through fourth innings, Jones surrendered a two-run home run to Derek Scott in the fifth inning that cut NSU’s lead to 5-3.
The Demons had an answer, taking advantage of back-to-back hit by pitches by Spencer Goodwin and David Fry to start the sixth inning.
Austin Townsend battled back from a 1-2 count to work a full-count, bases-loaded walk before Richard connected on his second two-run single through the left side of the infield. Richard added an eighth-inning sacrifice fly to finish with a career-best five RBIs.
“He had a complete game today,” Barbier said of Richard, who added the first two stolen bases of his career and threw out a runner trying to steal. “It was good to see. I’m glad he was able to come out and do that on a Friday night, and hopefully he can take that momentum into tomorrow.”
Richard’s two singles sparked the Demons’ 10-hit attack while Dan Hlad gave the Demons a relief outing they greatly needed.
Hlad entered to face Crippen (4-for-5, two doubles, home run) with runners on first and second and two outs in the sixth with NSU leading 8-3.
Hlad jammed Crippen and induced a slow roller to first baseman David Fry to retire Crippen for the only time Friday night and maintain NSU’s lead.
Hlad finished the game, going 3 1-3 scoreless innings to pick up his first career save and to give the Demons’ bullpen a needed lift.
“The way our bullpen is, just the bodies, we had another one who couldn’t make the trip,” Barbier said. “It was great to see Dan come out and compete. The last three or four times he’s been out, he’s been really good.”
In addition to Richard, Matthew Alford and Lenni Kunert each went 2-for-5. For Kunert, it marked the first multi-hit game of his career. Luis Trevino went 2-for-3 to join Crippen as Wildcats with multi-hit games.
The series continues Saturday at 6 p.m. Northwestern State will send right-hander Evan Tidwell (4-5, 5.65) to the mound against ACU right-hander Drew Hanson (2-4, 6.42).
Northwestern State 10, Abilene Christian 3
NSU 003 203 011 – 10 10 0
NSU 100 020 000 – 3 9 0
W – Nathan Jones (4-7). L – Austin Lambright (0-3). S – Dan Hlad (1). 2B – NSU, Cade Jones; ACU, Russell Crippen 2; Luis Trevino. HR – ACU, Crippen (8); Derek Scott (5). Highlights: NSU, Matthew Alford 2-5, RBI; Lenni Kunert 2-5; Kelsey Richard 2-3, 5 RBIs. ACU, Crippen 4-5, 2 2Bs, HR, RBI; Scott HR, 2 RBIs; Trevino 2-3, 2B.
Records: Northwestern State 19-29, 9-16; Abilene Christian 12-34, 2-23.