Jones, early offense lead Demons to sweep of Nicholls

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NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State baseball team completed its first sweep of the 2019 season in strange fashion Sunday afternoon – with no players inside the realm of Brown-Stroud Field.

The Demons outlasted both Nicholls and Mother Nature in the finale of a three-game Southland Conference series, claiming a 3-2 win after the second weather delay of the day.

“You hate for it to end that way with the weather,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “Those guys at Nicholls do a great job, and you hate for it to end that way with the weather affecting it so much.”

The Demons (19-11, 9-6) knew timing was key in the thrice-delayed and eventually postponed series finale.

With a line of strong storms expected to hit the Natchitoches area in the early afternoon, the game was moved up to an 11 a.m. start. A smaller window of time meant Northwestern State right-hander Nathan Jones needed to be sharp early.

Jones (4-1) was more than sharp. Turning in possibly his best start of the season, Jones limited Nicholls (17-16, 8-7) to just an infield single and a walk in six innings. Jones’ defense helped him face the minimum as he rolled a double to erase Adam Tarver after Tarver’s leadoff single in the second.

Catcher Jakob Nunez handled Chris Sandberg, picking off his Nicholls counterpart after Sandberg’s one-out walk in the third. From there, Jones rolled, retiring the final 10 Colonels he faced before the first weather delay of the game arrived after the first pitch of the bottom of the sixth.

Jones needed just 76 pitches to navigate his six one-hit innings. It marked Jones’ second straight start against Nicholls that was shortened by the weather. Jones started Northwestern State’s 3-2 Southland Conference Tournament bracket final game against Nicholls in May, leaving in the eighth inning because of a rain delay.

“I’m so proud of Nathan,” Barbier said. “It might be as good as I’ve seen him in his career here. He’s progressively improved every step of the way. He’s worked his tail off to the point where he is now. Very proud of him and very proud of us coming out with energy.

“We knew the weather would be tough. It was good to get the lead early. It was a really complete weekend for our team. It’s tough to be the home team with the weather. Good job of putting adversity aside and getting three wins.”

The Demons’ offense made things a little easier for Jones after his eight-pitch first inning.

With one out, Caleb Ricca lined a single off Colonels starter Shane Mejia (4-1) before stealing second. After a Jeffrey Elkins walk, Ricca scored from second on a wild pitch that also advanced Elkins to third.

J.P. Lagreco, who was at bat for the wild pitch, drew a walk from Mejia and took second on another wild pitch, setting up Sam Taylor’s two-out, two-run single. The three runs proved enough support for Jones, who moved into a three-way tie for eighth in school history in games started (37) and passed Chris Brown for eighth place in career strikeouts (184).

“I really like the way this team is coming out and playing the last couple of weekends,” Barbier said. “We didn’t get the wins last weekend, but we’re coming out ready to go. That’s important to have a team that does that. We never had a problem with the play. We weren’t playing extremely well. We’ve settled on a lineup, and that brings certainty when you come to the park. Guys aren’t shuffling in and out of the lineup. Since we’ve settled on it, the at-bats have been a little more consistent. That was the No. 1 pitching staff in the league coming in, and I think we did a good job against them.”

Freshman Hilton Brown collected two of the Demons’ five hits in the rain-shortened series finale while Tarver went 2-for-3 with an RBI single of Jose Vasquez in the seventh inning. Vasquez allowed two runs but closed out the win with a strikeout of pinch hitter Alec Paz to notch his sixth save, moving him into a tie for 10th place on NSU’s career list.

The Demons return to action Tuesday night when they open a four-game road trip with a 6 p.m. mid-week matchup at UL Monroe.

Northwestern State 3, Nicholls 2 (7 innings)

NICH 000 000 2 – 2 4 0
NSU 300 000 x – 3 5 1
W – Nathan Jones (4-1). L – Shane Mejia (4-1). S – Jose Vasquez (2). 2B – NSU, Hilton Brown. Highlights: NICH, Adam Tarver 2-3, RBI. NSU, Brown 2-2, 2B.
Records: Nicholls 17-16, 8-7; Northwestern State 19-11, 9-6

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