Southland Tournament: NSU can’t solve UCA’s Davenport in first-round shutout

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SUGAR LAND, Texas – The Northwestern State baseball team had a chance to get to Central Arkansas right-hander Cody Davenport early Wednesday in the first round of the Southland Conference Tournament.

The Bears senior pitcher did not allow the Demons many other chances.

Davenport scattered six hits, striking out 11, and made a couple of early runs stand up as No. 2 seed Central Arkansas shut out seventh-seeded Northwestern State, 2-0, at Constellation Field.

“You’ve got to tip your cap,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “He was aggressive in the strike zone and didn’t give us many chances for free bases. It was a tough day to hit for their team, too. It was one of those days where you have to make your opportunities count. We had one early in the game, and we didn’t make it count. That’s part of it. Now, we have to come out ready to play (Thursday).”

The Demons will face No. 3 seed Southeastern Louisiana in a 9 a.m. elimination game Thursday. The Lions fell to No. 6 seed Stephen F. Austin, 5-0, in the opening game of the tournament.

While Davenport (7-4) made things tough on the Demons (30-24), the Bears offense was equally hard on Northwestern State starter Nathan Jones (7-4).

Tyler Smith’s one-out RBI double in the first was all the offense Davenport needed and came after a long at-bat where he fouled off three 2-2 pitches before poking one into the left-center field gap. Lenni Kunert preserved the 1-0 lead by throwing Smith out at the plate by 10 feet after Tanner Wiley’s two-out single to right.

Another Central Arkansas double led to the final run of the game for the Bears (30-25).

Josh Ragan’s one-out double in the third put a runner in scoring position before Jones recovered to strike out Smith. Jones then lost command of the strike zone, walking three straight hitters, including two on 3-2 pitches, to force in another run.

Jones lasted five innings, allowing six hits and two runs while striking out eight. The patient UCA hitters forced him to throw a season-high 110 pitches in those five innings before David Hodo entered and worked three scoreless innings of relief.

“They did a good job in the first of stringing together a couple of good at-bats,” Barbier said. “The third inning where we walked three guys, we need to stay away from that, but (Jones) gutted it out for us. He’s been really good for us all year long. He gave us a chance when he didn’t have his best stuff.”

The best scoring opportunity for NSU came in the third when Sam Taylor and Caleb Ricca singled, putting runners on the corners with one out. A caught stealing and a strikeout silenced the threat, leading to Northwestern State’s first shutout since March 8 at Abilene Christian.

The Demons put just three runners in scoring position against Davenport and had just one at-bat with runners in scoring position and less than two outs.

That came in the ninth inning after J.P. Lagreco laced a one-out double to left-center off Davenport, who then retired Austin Stegall on a line drive to center field on the next pitch. Lagreco took third base on a wild pitch before Kunert flied out to right to end the game and put the Demons in the elimination bracket.

Northwestern State will send left-hander Ridge Heisler (4-5, 3.67) to the mound Thursday against Southeastern Louisiana right-hander Mason Knopp (7-2, 4.43).

“We’ve got breakfast and baseball (Thursday), but we’ve done it before,” Barbier said. “Hopefully, we’ll come out and play well.”

Central Arkansas 2, Northwestern State 0

NSU       000 000 000 – 0 6 1

UCA       101 00 00x – 2 8 1

W – Cody Davenport (7-4). L – Nathan Jones (7-4). 2B – NSU, J.P. Lagreco, Lenni Kunert. UCA, Josh Ragan, Tyler Smith. Highlights: NSU, Lagreco 2-4, 2B. UCA, Cole Fiori 2-4.

Records: Northwestern State 30-24; Central Arkansas 30-25.

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