By: Jason Pugh
HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Twice Friday night, the Northwestern State baseball team loaded the bases only to come up empty.
Given a third chance, the Demons responded in remarkable fashion.
Daniel Garner capped a seven-run ninth inning with an opposite-field, bases-clearing double that lifted Northwestern State to a 7-5 victory against Sam Houston State in the opener of a three-game Southland Conference baseball series at Don Sanders Stadium.
“In 22 years of coaching – and this isn’t hyperbole – I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything like that, posting a seven spot in the ninth,” fourth-year head coach Lane Burroughs said. “I told them I would be proud of them either way. I thought we absolutely crushed some balls tonight that didn’t find holes. We had the bases loaded in the first and had them juiced (in the eighth). Cort (Brinson) can’t hit a ball harder than that, and their shortstop made a big-league play. You can’t do anything about that.”
The Demons (9-8, 3-1) did what they could do to rectify that problem in the ninth.
Garner started the ninth inning with a single, part of a run of five straight Demons to reach base to start the ninth.
Bases-loaded walks by Matt Valdez and Spencer Goodwin put Northwestern State on the board. After Valdez’ walk, Sam Houston State (6-12, 1-3) turned to closer Spence Rahm (0-2).
Rahm struggled to find the strike zone as well, walking Goodwin before retiring the next two Demons.
Bret Underwood then laced a two-run single on a 2-2 count to cut the lead to one. After Brinson drew a walk to re-load the bases, Garner sliced a drive deep to right field that Riley McKnight could not corral, clearing the bases and capping NSU’s unexpected comeback.
“We were really feeling pretty good, because we were squaring up a lot of balls all night,” said Garner, who finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs. “Their starter (Sam Odom) did a good job coming out and filling up the zone.
“I didn’t see (the game-winning hit) off the bat, but it looked like (McKnight) got turned around. I’m pretty happy it fell in.”
Northwestern State’s comeback overshadowed a pitchers’ duel between Odom and NSU ace Adam Oller that was a taught 1-0 battle until the Bearkats scored three two-out runs in the seventh inning.
Sam Houston State added another run in the eighth, but NSU freshman reliever Jesse Fruge (1-0) limited the damage, setting up the Demons comeback.
After the rally, Fruge’s fellow freshman Nathan Jones closed out the victory with a perfect ninth to collect his second save of the season.
“That was a huge double play for Jesse,” Burroughs said. “He threw the ball well. He walked a couple of guys but got back in the zone. Nate Jones, ice water in his veins. After that big comeback, he nails it down for us. I’m very proud for our guys. To come back and fight like that against a good club that was taking it to us, I’m very proud of them.”
The series continues Saturday at 3 p.m. with left-hander Chase Hymel (1-2, 3.80) starting for Northwestern State against Sam Houston State right-hander Heath Donica (1-2, 4.56).
Northwestern State 7, Sam Houston State 5
NSU 000 000 007 – 7 8 1
SHSU 100 000 310 – 5 10 0
W – Jesse Fruge (1-0). L – Spence Rahm (0-2). S – Nathan Jones (2). 2B – NSU, Daniel Garner. 3B – SHSU, Andrew Fregia. Highlights: NSU, Garner 3-5, 2B, 3 RBIs; Bret Underwood 2-5, 2 RBIs. SHSU, Robie Rojas 2-3, RBI; Fregia 3B, 2 RBIs; Riley McKnight 2-4, RBI.
Records: Northwestern State 9-8, 3-1; Sam Houston State 6-12, 1-3.