Northwestern State does it all in doubleheader sweep Saturday over Nicholls

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NATCHITOCHES – For at least a day, hitting season arrived for the Northwestern State baseball team.

The Demons reached double figures in hits twice – and for the third straight game – and blasted five home runs Saturday, sweeping a Southland Conference doubleheader from Nicholls, 7-3 and 13-6, at Brown-Stroud Field.

“We played the way we can,” said assistant coach Chris Bertrand, who took over for head coach Bobby Barbier after Barbier left prior to Game 1 with a non-COVID-related medical issue. “You saw that today. We had double-digit hits in both games. Two quality starts, right at 100 pitches, deep into the game.

“I’m proud of the fact we won two games, but I told the guys, I’m more proud of how they went out and handled their business.”

The Demons (19-17, 13-9) started strong, scoring five two-out runs in the first inning of Game 1, highlighted by a Hilton Brown grand slam.

NSU’s quick start made things easier on right-hander Johnathan Harmon (3-2), who tied his career high by pitching eight innings.

While the Demons did not score again until the sixth inning, Harmon limited the Colonels (16-21, 11-11) to single runs in the second, fourth and fifth innings to keep Northwestern State ahead.

“Hilton’s been working this entire year to get to this point,” Harmon said. “To see him do that was surreal. The past two weeks, I’ve been hit around a little bit. I had to get back to pitching with intent. I went back to throwing as hard as I could and see what happened. Thank God it worked.”

The Demons repeatedly threatened Nicholls starter Chase Gearing (3-3) in the early going, even after Brown’s first-inning grand slam. Still, Gearing pitched into the sixth inning, keeping the game close.

Jake Haze, who went 3-for-3 with a pair of RBIs in the opener, extended the NSU lead with an RBI single in the sixth and again with a sacrifice fly in the eighth.

That was enough for Harmon and Drayton Brown, who pitched a clean ninth inning with a pair of strikeouts.

Haze had three of the Demons’ 10 hits in the opener while Cam Sibley went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks.

Though not as quickly, Northwestern State built another 5-0 lead in the nightcap, starting with Daunte Stuart’s one-out solo home run in the first inning off right-hander Trever Kilcrease (2-5).

Stuart’s solo shot was the appetizer before a full buffet of Demon hits against Kilcrease and four Colonels relievers.

Behind a 4-for-4 performance from Marshall Skinner and Stuart going 2-for-2 with a pair of home runs and four walks, the top four hitters in the NSU order went 9-for-14 with three home runs, eight RBIs and eight runs scored.

“Everyone’s starting to have a good approach,” said Skinner, who went 5-for-8 with a home run and four RBIs in the doubleheader. “We’re looking for certain pitches. We’re swinging at good pitches. Larson (Fontenot) has been taking really good at-bats all the time. So have Daunte and Lenni (Kunert). It’s tough following those guys.”

Cal Carver (5-3) was the victim of some soft contact as the Colonels cut into the Demon lead with a pair of two-run innings in the fifth and sixth before Stuart, Skinner and Cam Sibley provided an emphatic answer over the Demons’ next two frames.

Fontenot drew a walk off left-handed reliver Beau Balado to start the sixth after Balado had fanned the first five Demons he faced after relieving Kilcrease in the fourth.

On the next pitch, Stuart demolished a Balado fastball to left field for his first career multi-home run game and the first by a Demon since Austin Stegall did so against Incarnate Word on May 12, 2019.

“The guys were saying his ball gets on you fast,” said Stuart, who drew a career-high four walks and scored four times in the second game. “I was just trying to make sure I was on time for the fastball and adjust to anything else.”

Kunert followed Stuart’s blast with a single to knock Balado out of the game before Skinner welcomed reliever Peter Holland with a two-run home run to right-center field.

One inning later, Sibley punctuated the Demons’ season-high scoring output by connecting on the Demons’ second grand slam of the game, giving him a career-high five RBIs in the game.

“I challenged them in between games of the doubleheader,” Bertrand said. “In terms of baseball execution moments, when we were at the plate, we asked them for better quality. That’s what we were after. You can’t always control the result. When it’s execution moments for us on offense, we have to have a better quality at-bat, not be results oriented. They answered that challenge, answered that bell, and did the things in Game 2 we weren’t successful at in Game 1.”

The series concludes Sunday with a 1 p.m. doubleheader. Right-hander Levi David (2-4, 3.79) is slated to start the opener for Northwestern State against Nicholls right-hander Devin Desandro (3-1, 2.48). Neither team has announced a starter for the second game.

Northwestern State 7-13, Nicholls 3-6
Game 1
NICH 010 110 000 – 3 5 2
NSU 500 001 01x – 7 10 1
W – Johnathan Harmon (3-2). L – Chase Gearing (3-3). 2B – NICH, Greg Anderberg. NSU, Cam Sibley. HR – NSU, Hilton Brown (1). Highlights: NICH, Anderberg 2-3. NSU, Sibley 2-2, 2B; Brown GS, 4 RBIs; Jake Haze 3-3, 2 RBIs.

Game 2
NICH 000 022 101 – 6 12 2
NSU 102 204 40x – 13 14 2
W – Cal Carver (5-3). L – Trever Kilcrease (2-5). 2B – NICH, Kyle Boudreaux. HR – NICH, Xane Washington (2). NSU, Daunte Stuart 2 (6), Marshall Skinner (3), Cam Sibley (2). Highlights: NICH, Washington 3-5, HR, 3 RBIs; Boudreaux 2-5, 2B; Wes Toups 2-4; Austin Cain 2-3. NSU, Stuart 2-2, 2 HRs, 3 RBIs; Lenni Kunert 2-4, 2 RBIs; Skinner 4-4, HR, 3 RBIS; Sibley GS, 5 RBIs; Jake Haze 2-4.
Records: Nicholls 16-21, 11-11; Northwestern State 19-17, 13-9.

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