Northwestern State softball will face three certainties when it finishes the regular season with a three-game home series against Central Arkansas.
The Lady Demons (26-24, 13-11 Southland Conference) are assured a spot in the upcoming SLC Tournament, which will be in hosted in Natchitoches starting Tuesday.
NSU also knows that it will play in the single-elimination round. The Lady Demons enter the weekend as the No. 7 seed with the possibility of finishing as high as a No. 5 seed or as low as the No. 8 seed if Central Arkansas (25-25, 11-13 SLC) sweeps the series.
The final certainty is NSU will be celebrating a fantastic senior class after the finale Saturday, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. The series begins with a Friday doubleheader scheduled for 2 p.m., moved up a couple of hours from the original start time because of possible poor weather that night.
Pitcher Mikayla Brown, designated player Kaylee Isenburg and outfielder Kayla Roquemore will play their final regular-season home games before aiming to take the SLC Tournament by storm in their home complex.
“These seniors have shown a lot of heart and character,” said NSU coach Donald Pickett. “Roquemore has done a lot of great things for us, helped us lead.
“Brown has faced huge injuries, fought through it and continued to battle. (Isenburg) has had bad luck from an injury standpoint, but she continues to push on. It means a lot for our program for them to stick with it, try to push through it and help this team win.”
Brown (4-7) has had two of her best outings in the past week as she took Stephen F. Austin to extra innings in a 3-2 loss before blanking Prairie View A&M in a four-hitter in her third shutout of the season.
Tuesday’s win bumped Brown’s total to 45, tied for sixth-best in NSU history. The shutout is also the 11th of her career.
The Deville native won the Southland Conference Pitcher of the Year as a freshman in 2015 before suffering an ACL tear two starts in 2016, her second such injury of her career.
But Brown plugged along, winning double-digit games in each of her next two seasons, including a career-high 16 as a redshirt sophomore.
“Coming in as a freshman, I knew this was a family, and even when I got hurt, I knew I was going to stay for all five of my years,” Brown said. “It’s been a long process that’s been aggravating at times, but I knew I just had to work for my team and myself.
“I feel confident out there. I’m not throwing as hard as I usually do, but the more spin I put on a pitch, the better.”
Isenburg is dealing with her second career ACL tear which has forced her to miss the majority of her senior season.
The designated player made more than 70 career starts and 44 RBI, which included a grand slam to beat McNeese as a freshman that highlighted a season in which she batted .310.
“(The grand slam) was intense,” said Isenburg, who had three career home runs. “They walked the batter in front of me because I was a freshman … but they threw me my pitch (high and inside), and I hit it over the Outfield Club.
“(As a senior), I’ve taken a lot of hitting stats, tell my teammates what pitchers like to throw, or keep everyone hyped in the dugout. Natchitoches has definitely been a home for me with the way the community embraces you.”
Roquemore has fulfilled her dream of playing college softball in her hometown of Natchitoches.
The feisty Natchitoches Central product carved out 16 starts with 110 career appearances and 44 runs scored.
“It’s been a true blessing to play the game I love in my hometown,” Roquemore said. “I see other girls not be able to be with their families as much or make certain events, but my family can work around that with me just being 10 minutes away.”
Arguably the most memorable run came earlier this season when she scored the winning tally against Southeastern on a suicide squeeze in the 10th inning that completed a series sweep.
“(Pickett) gave the signal, and I’m thinking I have to get there (home plate) and do it for my team,” Roquemore said. “It was one of those do-or-die moments — I have to make it or it’s going to hurt.
“The ball beat me (to the plate), and I knew I had tuck my shoulder into her glove. I saw the ball roll out, I just didn’t know if anybody else saw it.”
The seniors will lead an NSU squad against a UCA team that enters the weekend with momentum.
The Bears clinched an SLC Tournament spot with a sweep of Houston Baptist as UCA has won its last four contests.
“(UCA) has a lot fight, and they seem to bounce back when they’ve had a bad weekend,” Pickett said. “They’ll bring confidence in here and be excited to play after a big weekend.
“The pressure is off after getting a tournament spot. We’ll need to focus on not letting a mistake or bad at-bat or pitch take us out of the game. We really believe we’re a good team when we can bounce back and be even stronger after something like that.”
Photo Credit: NSU Photographic Services