NATCHITOCHES — Five Northwestern State seniors weren’t sure if they had played their last games Saturday after Central Arkansas won both contests Saturday and put the Lady Demons’ postseason at risk.
But those seniors breathed much easier about 30 minutes after the 3-2 finale loss as NSU secured the No. 6 seed in the Southland Conference Tournament as McNeese finished its sweep of Southeastern and eliminated the Lions.
NSU (22-31, 12-15 SLC) owns the tiebreaker over Southeastern (26-29, 12-15) because the Lady Demons won two of three games in Hammond this season.
The Lady Demons will play No. 3 seed Lamar on Wednesday at 11 a.m. to kick off the Southland Conference Tournament in Conway, Arkansas, home of UCA (24-32, 14-13 SLC)
“It’s huge for us to be able to fight through conference season and earn your way in to the tournament,” said NSU coach Donald Pickett. “We were able to win some conference series down the stretch even though we weren’t able to win this one.
“Everybody’s 0-0 in the tournament, and you get an opportunity to extend your season and you can make of it what you want. Hopefully we’ll go up there and play well, see what we can and play with confidence.”
NSU returns to the SLC Tournament for the fourth time in five seasons after missing in 2016.
UCA won Saturday’s games 2-1 and 3-2.
UCA 2, NSU 1
Northwestern State stranded 11 runners (seven in scoring position) in Saturday’s first game as Central Arkansas scratched out its two runs on just four hits.
Freshman Hayley Barbazon (2-2) made her first collegiate start as a pitcher, allowing two runs on three hits in three innings.
Central Arkansas scored an unearned run in the second inning when Morgan Felts tripled in Ryan Holdiness, who reached on one of two NSU errors.
The Bears added a third-inning run on a Cylla Hill sacrifice fly.
NSU scored its lone run in the third inning when Brittney Jones (2-for-4) singled in Kellye Kincannon (reached base three times).
Kayla Gomeness (16-16) earned the win with one unearned run on seven hits in seven innings with three walks.
NSU left the bases loaded in the second and sixth innings.
Sophomore designated player Kaylee Isenburg recorded two hits to match Jones’ two hits.
Pitcher Katelyn Boles threw four scoreless innings in relief, matching her longest and most productive outing since nearly no-hitting McNeese on April 1.
UCA 3, NSU 2
NSU coach Donald Pickett lauded his defense for making a lot of tough plays in the doubleheader, but NSU’s lone error of the second game proved to be a costly one.
After UCA’s Hannah Stirton was hit by a pitch in the third inning, a throwing error on a Briana Whisenhunt sacrifice bunt attempt allowed Stirton to score and moved Whisenhunt to third base.
A Cylla Hill RBI single plated UCA’s second run of the inning for a 2-0 lead.
“We played some pretty good defense, made an error or two, but we got some lead runners,” Pickett said. “We just hadn’t been able to get those hits put together.”
“It felt like we scattered hits, and we’ve got to be a little more consistent to score a few more runs.”
NSU sophomore pitcher Mikayla Brown (15-13) produced her second solid performance in the loss, allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits in the complete game. The Deville native struck out three, walked three and plunked one after tossing a Friday shutout.
NSU responded with two fourth-inning runs to tie the game. Micayla Sorosiak (2-for-3) singled in Kellye Kincannon before Sorosiak scored on an Emma Hawthorne RBI single to tie the game 2-2.
Central Arkansas scored the deciding run in the sixth inning when Kate Myers (2-for-3) doubled in Morgan Felts for the 3-2 edge.
UCA reliever Nicole Fullilove (1-2) earned the win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings.