Prior to the 2019 season, three Northwestern State baseball players were preseason all-conference selections.
The Demons matched that number Monday afternoon when the All-Southland Conference Baseball Teams were announced by the conference office.
Senior right-handed pitcher Nathan Jones was a second-team selection while junior shortstop Caleb Ricca and junior outfielder Tyler Smith were third-team honorees. The three teams were chosen by a vote of the league’s coaches and sports information directors.
A pair of Demons – senior third baseman Sam Taylor and freshman outfielder Jeffrey Elkins – were honorable mention picks. All five Demons were honored as all-conference members for the first time in their careers.
Jones, a Shreveport-Loyola College Prep product, was the only Southland pitcher to toss multiple complete-game shutouts, tossing two in back-to-back starts against McNeese (April 20) and at Stephen F. Austin (April 27).
Jones finished the regular season 7-3 with a 2.72 ERA and a team-leading 72 strikeouts. Jones ranked second in opponents’ batting average (.201), eighth in ERA and ninth in strikeouts. His seven wins were tied for third in the conference.
“I make no bones about it when I talk to scouts or to anyone else, I think Nathan is probably the hardest working pitcher we’ve had come through here,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “He deserves it. He didn’t come in throwing 96 miles per hour. He’s put in the work in the weight room and on the mound. He’s continued to improve throughout his career. He was never satisfied with where he was or what he had accomplished as a pitcher. That’s what you need – guys who will come in and take it upon themselves to make themselves better.”
Ricca, a Dutchtown High School product who has started the past 148 games at shortstop for Northwestern State, led the Southland Conference with 24 stolen bases and paced the Demons in doubles (17) and extra-base hits (25). He ranked second on the team in RBIs (34) and third in home runs (5).
RIcca’s 24 stolen bases rank 44th nationally and are tied for 10th in Northwestern State single-season history.
“Caleb has been consistent all year long,” Barbier said. “His defense has been spectacular, and when he gets on base, he scores probably 70 percent of the time.”
Smith led Northwestern State and tied for seventh in the conference with 10 home runs. His 36 RBIs paced the Demons. He tied the school single-game record with three home runs in NSU’s 10-7 win at then-No. 6/8 Arkansas on April 24. His .512 slugging percentage was second among Demons regulars.
Defensively, Smith tied for the team lead with three outfield assists and has recorded 13 outfield assists in the past two seasons.
“Tyler ended up having a great second half of the season, hitting for power for us,” Barbier said. “All of those guys are very deserving.”
Northwestern State opens Southland Conference Tournament play at 12 p.m. Wednesday when it faces No. 2 seed Central Arkansas. That game, along with all tournament games, will be available on ESPN Plus. The game also will air on 100.7 FM KZBL and the Demon Sports Network.
Tournament events begin Tuesday night when J.P. Lagreco looks to defend his Southland Conference Tournament Home Run Derby crown at 6 p.m.
Player of the Year: Luis Trevino, Abilene Christian
Hitter of the Year: Colton Cowser, Sam Houston State
Pitcher of the Year: Corey Gaconi, Southeastern Louisiana
Relief Pitcher of the Year: Reeves Martin, New Orleans
Freshman of the Year: Taylor Smith, UIW
Newcomer of the Year: Alex Palmer, Stephen F. Austin
Clay Gould Coach of the Year: Patrick Hallmark, Incarnate Word
Honorable Mention: 1B: Collin Morrill, New Orleans. 2B: Brennan Breaud, Southeastern Louisiana. 3B: Robin Adames, Lamar; Sam Taylor, Northwestern State. SS: Cody Grosse, Southeastern Louisiana. C: Gavin Johnson, Sam Houston State.DH: Preston Faulkner, Southeastern Louisiana. OF: Jeffrey Elkins, Northwestern State; Avery George, Lamar, Cole Girouard, Lamar. SP: Spencer Chirpich, Abilene Christian; Mason Knopp, Southeastern Louisiana. RP: Will Dion, McNeese; Brennan Lewis, Abilene Christian; Nick Mikolajchak, Sam Houston State; Gavin Stone, Central Arkansas. U:Champ Davison, Nicholls.