NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State baseball team’s long-awaited home opener proved to be worth a few extra days.
The nightcap of Sunday’s doubleheader against Southern, however, did not go as smoothly for the Demons as they split the twinbill against the Jaguars. Northwestern State grabbed a 13-6 win in the opener before Southern avoided the sweep with a 7-5 win in Game 2.
“On days like today, you have to have discipline,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “You have to have discipline to make a decision to have energy. You have to compete the entire day. We came out with a flurry, had crooked numbers everywhere. Then we had the momentum change. A couples of guys struggled throwing strikes, and it flipped the momentum on us.
“Then, (Southern) played really well in the second game. Their pitchers competed in the strike zone. Their center fielder (Javyean Williams) was running down everything we hit. When you don’t have the discipline to compete all day, the other team makes a couple plays and you don’t win.”
In the opener, the Demons (2-3) scored in each of the first five innings, collecting multiple runs in four straight from the second through the fifth.
Northwestern State jumped quickly on Southern starter Justin Freeman (0-1), taking a first-inning lead on Tyler Smith’s sacrifice fly.
Three more runs followed in the second inning before a combined seven runs in the fourth and fifth innings put the game out of reach.
Left-hander Ridge Heisler (1-0) was the recipient of the offensive outburst but didn’t need much support. Heisler spun six innings o three-hit ball, allowing only an unearned run to earn his first victory of the season.
Heisler struck out five and issued only one walk, which came to the penultimate batter he faced.
“The change-up was really fading away from them,” Heisler said. “It was about dominating my aspect of the game, coming out and setting the tone for the first game.”
The NSU offense backed Heisler and four relievers with a season-high 13 hits, including three by Sam Taylor, who tied his career high, a mark that stood for about three hours.
Taylor (3-for-4) was joined in the multi-hit club by Caleb Ricca (2-for-3), Smith (2-for-2) and Luke Watson (2-for-3).
Northwetern State’s early offense was key because Southern began to make some noise against the Demons bullpen, scoring three runs in the seventh inning and a pair in the ninth.
Sharp relief work by Tyler Pigott in the eighth inning kept the Jaguars from denting the lead even more. Pigott entered with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth, retiring both batters he faced to keep Northwestern State ahead 13-4.
Southern took the late-game offensive surge from the opener and kept it going in the night cap.
The Jaguars scored single runs in each of the first four innings and got solid relief work rom Eli Finney (1-0), Jackson Cullen and Connor Whalen to earn the split.
After the Demons tagged him with a three-run, two-out rally in the second, Finney settled in and allowed only one run in the next four innings, which allowed the Jaguars to take advantage of some Northwestern State defensive mistakes.
Two Demons errors led to a pair of unearned runs, and Southern used its speed to spark a decisive two-run sixth innings off David Hodo (0-2) before Cullen and Whalen worked three scoreless innings to seal the victory.
After Hodo struck out the side in the fifth and retired the first two batters of the sixth inning, Willie Ward (2-for-4) singled and stole second base before Williams brought him home with a single.
Williams swiped second and third and scored on a two-out RBI infield single by Tyler LaPorte to push the lead to 6-4.
Ricca singled home Taylor, who went 4-for-5 in the nightcap, with two outs in the sixth for the Demons’ final run of the game.
Southern hung on for the win despite a combined 17 strikeouts from Jerry Maddox (eight), Hodo (three), Austin Reich (five) and Kyle Swanson.
Taylor had seven hits in the doubleheader while Ricca added four hits and four RBIs in the twinbill.
“He’s been a really good player for us,” Barbier said of Taylor. “He’s phenomenal on defense, and when he swings the bat like he did today, he can be an all-conference kind of player.”
The Demons continue their six-game homestand by hosting ULM on Tuesday. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Brown-Stroud Field.