Contributed by: NSU Athletic Communications
NATCHITOCHES – For the first time this season, the Northwestern State baseball team has won back-to-back Southland Conference games.
The road to the second of those was a winding one the Demons do not usually take.
Northwestern State trailed early in Sunday’s series finale against Lamar, but the short-handed Demons used timely hitting and the generosity of the Lamar pitching staff to grab a 10-6 series-clinching win against the visiting Cardinals at Brown-Stroud Field.
“At some point today, we had our fourth second baseman out there,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “Chaney (Dodge) came in, and he normally plays third base for us. He did a great job after Hilton (Brown) got sick. I’m just proud of the fight. We had every opportunity to fold our tent. We were down 4-0, and once got the run back, we gave it right back.
“We fought, and we took advantage of some miscues on their side. We played errorless baseball this week. If you do that, in the long run, it will work out. I’m very proud of our guys for sticking with it.”
While the Demons (12-9, 5-4) did not commit an error, the Cardinals (9-14, 2-7) were charged with three. Those mistakes, coupled with a patient Demons offense, allowed Northwestern State to escape deficits of 4-0 after one half inning and 5-1 after an inning and a half.
Sophomore center fielder Larson Fontenot keyed both rallies.
After the Cardinals took a 4-0 lead against Nathan Jones (3-1) in the first inning, Fontenot delivered an inside-the park home run off Lamar starter Douglas Palmer to lead off the game.
Fontenot’s fly ball to left field sent Cole Coker hard into the wall, and the ball caromed almost back to straightaway left field. By the time Lamar center fielder Cole Girouard tried to pick up the ball, Fontenot was being waved home for his second home run of the season.
The home run was the first of two key Fontenot hits in the first two innings.
After Palmer retired the first two Demons in the second inning, Austin Townsend and Hilton Brown coaxed walks from Palmer before Fontenot hooked a two-run double to left field to slice the lead in half.
“I was seeing it very well,” Fontenot said. “Coming into the game, we knew (Palmer) had a sinker. The first two (pitches) I saw were flat, and the third was the sinker. I put a good swing on it. I thought it was routine, but it kept carrying. (On the double) it was the same pitch. It came in on me. I hit it, and I was hoping it would stay fair.”
A Caleb Ricca walk and a Jeffrey Elkins hit by pitch kept the two-out rally going when Palmer uncorked a run-scoring wild pitch where Fontenot scored. Ricca sped around third and scored on catcher Rhett McCall’s wild return throw home to tie the game.
Given new life, Jones settled in and put up scoreless third and fourth innings while the Demons turned a run-scoring passed ball and a J.P. Lagreco RBI single into runs in each of those innings to take a 7-5 lead.
Jones worked five innings, allowing eight hits, six runs (four earned) and two walks while striking out six. The six strikeouts moved him into 10th place on the Demons’ all-time strikeout list with 175, passing Scott Stagner. His 254 innings pitched put him eight on the career list as he passed Kenny Stelly on Sunday.
After a 37-pitch first inning, Jones maneuvered through the next four innings on 67 pitches, saving a short Demons’ bullpen that was hit hard by a flu bug that has made its way through the roster.
“Both times he’s had a tough start for us, he’s come out and he’s gotten us deep into the game,” Barbier said. “He’s settled in, and he hasn’t given up. That’s maturity. In past years, I don’t know if he makes it into the fifth or sixth inning in these type of games. It was big for us because of our bullpen depth. We had four guys unavailable today.”
One of the available arms was Cullen McDonald, who tossed four scoreless innings to earn his first save of the season. McDonald entered with a 9-6 lead and scattered three hits, slowing down a Lamar offense that broke quickly against Jones.
Meanwhile, the Demons offense added on against the Lamar bullpen, scoring twice in the fifth inning on an Austin Townsend RBI double and a Dodge sacrifice fly.
Austin Stegall’s solo home run in the seventh inning completed a day where the Demons scored in six of their eight turns at bat.
“Larson keeps getting better as a player,” Barbier said. “That’s what he’s done since he showed up on campus. He keeps getting better. We talk all the time about, when they give you a window, you need to break through. If you’re not stringing together 12, 13, 14 hits in a game, you have to do that. We did that today.
“You’ve got to keep adding. You can’t be satisfied. Steg’s home run at the end was big for us.”
Stegall (2-for-3), Fontenot (2-for-4, 3 RBIs) and Lagreco (2-for-4) had multi-hit days for the Demons while Cole Girouard paced Lamar’s 11-hit attack with a 4-for-5 performance.
The Demons return to action Wednesday when they open a four-game road trip at Southern at 6 p.m. in Baton Rouge. NSU then plays its first Southland Conference road series in three weeks when it faces Houston Baptist next weekend.