ABILENE, Texas – For the first time in three weeks, the Northwestern State baseball team gets a chance to bond on the road.
And It has plenty of time to do so. The Demons hit the road for their longest road trip of the season in terms of mileage, traveling 434 miles to open Southland Conference play at Abilene Christian on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. The three-game series also features games at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at Crutcher Scott Field. Streaming audio of all three games will be available on the new Northwestern State Athletics mobile, which is available for a free download through the Apple Store or Google Play, or on www.NSUDemons.com/watch.
“We have a pretty good road trip ahead of us,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “I’ve said it before, I like playing on the road. It brings you together. The roster gets trimmed down some, which creates opportunity for some guys and some adversity for others. How will the guys who didn’t make the trip come to work Monday? How do the guys who made the trip respond? All of that comes together when conference play begins.”
The Demons (6-4) carry the momentum of back-to-back wins on their first road trip since dropping two of three games at Houston on opening weekend Feb. 15-17. Northwestern State held off Little Rock in the second game of a doubleheader before putting together a five-run ninth inning to defeat longtime rival Louisiana Tech, 8-4, on Tuesday afternoon.
Add in the fact the Demons will run out the same starting rotation for the 13th consecutive weekend or tournament, there is a comfortable feeling as Northwestern State makes its earliest trip to Abilene since the teams began playing each other in the 2015 season.
The Demons all-senior starting rotation of left-hander Ridge Heisler and right-handers Jerry Maddox and Nathan Jones have combined for a 2.13 ERA in 42 1-3 innings in 2019. Heisler leads the way with an 0.96 ERA that ranks 86th nationally.
“Ridge has been tremendous since he’s been here,” Barbier said. “He’s just different than what guys see at this level. Nathan was really good (on Saturday against Little Rock). Jerry’s been so good for us. He’ll be fine. We just need to fine-tune a couple of things. I have all the trust in the world in Jerry Maddox to come out and pitch well.”
Pitching will be a theme in both dugouts as Abilene Christian (7-6) plays its first Southland Conference series under first-year head coach Rick McCarty, who came to ACU after a successful run as pitching coach at Dallas Baptist.
“He’s a really good coach,” Barbier said. “I’ve followed his career a little bit. He thinks about the pitching side very similar to the way I think I do. He’s going to do a really good job over there. They have some good wins early this season. The brought a bunch of junior college guys in, and it takes a little time for those teams to really get playing well, like we did last year.”
Those Demons won their first Southland Conference series, taking two of three at Nicholls, before dropping the next two weekend matchups with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Central Arkansas. Northwestern State then found its footing and closed the final seven weekends of conference play with a 14-7 mark to finish in third place in the league.
“If we have that growth mind-set of getting better as the season goes along, we shouldn’t be the same team in Abilene that we will be against Sam Houston State, or in the conference tournament or farther along,” Barbier said. “It’s not saying you don’t expect to play well now. We know we’ll be better in the end, but it’s time to win right now.”
Friday: Northwestern State LHP Ridge Heisler (1-0, 0.96) at Abilene Christian RHP Spencer Chirpich (0-0, 4.50)
Saturday: Northwestern State RHP Jerry Maddox (0-0, 4.30) at Abilene Christian LHP Derek Scott (0-0, 7.36)
Sunday: Northwestern State RHP Nathan Jones (1-0, 1.00) at Abilene Christian RHP Jonathan Nicholson (1-1, 4.02)