Demons welcome Nicholls for weather-affected series
NATCHITOCHES – After a few weeks of relatively stable weather, the Northwestern State baseball team finds itself with a weekend that recalls the early, rainy part of the 2019 season.
With rain expected to fall throughout the weekend, the Demons have adjusted their Southland Conference series with Nicholls and will play a 3 p.m. Friday doubleheader and a 2 p.m. single game Saturday.
Friday’s twinbill marks the third doubleheader of the season for the Demons (16-11, 6-6 Southland), who saw consecutive weekend series against Southern and Little Rock affected by rain in the second and third weekends of the season.
“You’ve got to be tough enough to handle it,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “If you can’t handle playing two games of baseball in a day, you probably need to do something else. You grow up playing tournaments where you play two or three games a day, so it should be business as usual, regardless of what happens.”
Northwestern State has won three straight games, collecting double-figure hits in each of the three games. It is the longest streak of double-digit hit games for the Demons offense this season and the first time NSU has recorded at least 10 hits in three straight games since March 11-17, 2018.
Nicholls (17-13, 8-4) will challenge the hot-hitting Demons with a pitching staff that enters the series with a 3.04 ERA, a mark that leads the Southland Conference and ranks 16th nationally.
“They pitch it extremely well,” Barbier said. “I’ve seen a little of it on film, and I’ll see a lot more of it later today. They have three solid starters who go deep into games, and they use quite a few guys out of the bullpen.”
The Colonels carry a four-game win streak into this weekend’s series and have won five of their past six conference games. During that stretch, Nicholls has allowed three or fewer earned runs in four of those six games.
Since the ninth inning of Sunday’s comeback victory at Houston Baptist, the Demons have hit .373 and scored 24 runs in 17 innings.
“We have to take what we’ve learned about ourselves up to this point – and what certain guys have made progress toward – and put it into this weekend,” Barbier said. “We have to understand they will compete in the strike zone probably better than any team we’ve faced. The way you make them not compete in the strike zone is to take good swings at good pitches.”
While shortstop Caleb Ricca ranks eighth in the Southland in batting average (.347) and is tied for the league lead in runs scored (28), the Demons have seen improved production from J.P. Lagreco, Tyler Smith and Lenni Kunert across the past three games.
Both Lagreco and Smith homered in a two-game, mid-week sweep of Mississippi Valley State while Kunert has hit safely in four of his past five games, going 5-for-8 with three walks in that span.
Additionally, the Demons have been at their best offensively with two outs. In the past three games, the Demons have scored at least four two-out runs in four separate innings.
“Baseball’s such a finicky game,” Barbier said. “When you think you’re good, you’re good. Hopefully, we have some hitters who think they’re good.
“For us, it’s been happening with two outs. We can score earlier in the inning. It makes it easier, but we’ll take it with two outs as well.”
Friday (Game 1): Nicholls RHP Trever Kilcrease (2-1, 4.15) at Northwestern State LHP Ridge Heisler (2-3, 3.15)
Friday (Game 2): Nicholls RHP Jacob Bedevian (2-1, 3.28) at Northwestern State RHP Cullen McDonald (3-0, 1.48)
Saturday: Nicholls LHP Shane Mejia (4-0, 2.12) at Northwestern State RHP Nathan Jones (3-1, 3.27)
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