HUNTSVILLE, Texas – The Northwestern State baseball team left the drama of making the Southland Conference Tournament at the front door of Don Sanders Stadium on Friday afternoon.
The Demons jumped on Sam Houston State starter Dominic Robinson and watched senior left-hander Ridge Heisler work 7 1-3 strong innings as Northwestern State clinched a berth in next week’s conference tournament with a 9-4 win in game one of Friday’s split doubleheader.
“We did a really good job of coming out and setting the tone offensively,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “We’ve been really good offensively the last couple of weeks, and we need to keep that going into the postseason.”
Unlike Thursday night when Northwestern State (30-22, 15-14) had a chance to put up multiple runs in the first inning and could not, the Demons capitalized on those chances in the opener of the doubleheader.
Caleb Ricca’s one-out double set in motion a four-run first inning and a four-hit day for the junior shortstop. Ricca scored on a Jeffrey Elkins single before Tyler Smith drilled a mammoth two-run home run to right field to extend the lead to 3-0.
“(Sam Taylor) got us going last night, so I tried to pick us up today,” said Ricca, whose 37 career doubles are 10th in school history. “He gave me a big pep talk last night, and we got it going. We came to party. That’s our job at the top of the lineup to get the guys going.”
That four-run first inning made things more comfortable for Heisler (4-5), who slowed a high-powered Bearkats offense that exploded for 11 runs and 17 hits in Thursday night’s series opener.
Heisler scattered 10 hits in 7 1-3 innings, allowing four runs, before Jerry Maddox came in and struck out the final two hitters of the eighth inning to preserve Northwestern State’s five-run lead.
Sam Houston State (30-23, 19-10) touched up Heisler for a run in the first and two in the fourth, cutting a 6-1 lead to three before Heisler regrouped and shut out the Bearkats across the next three innings.
Those zeroes loomed larger and larger as Sam Houston State left-hander Dominic Robinson (3-1) settled in after allowing six runs in the first two innings. Robinson retired 12 straight batters from the third through sixth innings.
“In the bullpen, there wasn’t anything too hot,” Heisler said. “Once we got the four spot in the first, I had to give it all I got. There was no way (Barbier) was taking me out of the game short of seven innings. It didn’t matter what I threw, the whole defense was making plays.”
Quiet for the middle part of the game, the Demons offense responded by extending the lead on Ricca’s two-out RBI triple in the seventh and added two more in the eighth on Kunert’s RBI groundout and a Marshall Skinner sacrifice fly.
That proved to be enough as Maddox came in and sealed the win, allowing one hit and one walk in 1 2-3 scoreless innings of relief.
“Ridge was really good against a tremendous lineup, and then Jerry there at the end,” Barbier said. “It was good to extend the lead and take the pressure off. It was a really good win for the Demons.”
Northwestern State 9, Sam Houston State 4
NSU 420 000 120 – 9 12 1
SHSU 100 200 010 – 4 11 2
W – Ridge Heisler (4-5). L – Dominic Robinson (3-1). 2B – NSU, Caleb Ricca 2. SHSU, Clayton Harp; Jack Rogers. 3B – NSU, Ricca. SHSU, Riley McKnight. HR – NSU, Tyler Smith (10). Highlights: NSU, Ricca 4-5, 2 2Bs, 3B, RBI; Smith 2-5, HR, 2 RBIs. SHSU, Harp 2-5, 2B; Rogers 3-4, 2B, RBI.
Records: Northwestern State 30-22, 15-14; Sam Houston State 30-23, 19-10.
Photo Credit: Brian Blalock/Sam Houston State Athletics