When the Northwestern State baseball team opens its 2020 season Friday night against Wichita State, there will be quite a divide among the Demons in terms of Division I experience.
From a position player perspective, NSU returns 451 games of Division I experience. In terms of the Demons’ projected starting rotation for the three-game series with the Shockers, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday night at Brown-Stroud Field, the total is 16 games with zero starts.
“It’s reminiscent of two years ago when we had a bunch of new guys,” fourth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “When you have a lot of junior college guys, it happens that ways where you have these two-year cycles with a bunch of new guys infiltrating the program. It’s a good thing. It promotes competition. It puts them on the same playing field.”
Junior right-hander Logan Hofmann is tabbed to start the season opener for the Demons, headlining a rotation that brings with it just 16 games of Division I experience, all of which belong to projected Saturday starter Reed Michel.
Freshman right-hander Johnathan Harmon is slated to make his NSU debut as the starter in Sunday’s 1 p.m. series finale.
“We’ll have three guys toeing the rubber who haven’t done it as a starter and two haven’t done it at the Division I level,” Barbier said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how they react. That’s the unknow as a coach – how you’re going to react. We’re just preaching to them to attack. That’s been the message for a while, especially this week. We’re going to make mistakes, but we’re going to make them going fast, and we’re going to understand and learn from them. The mentality we need this team to have is just to attack the game, attack the opponent. There are certain things in baseball you have to do well in order to perform well, and if we attack those, I think we’ll be fine.”
The Demons are coming off a 30-win season in which they reached the Southland Conference Tournament for the fifth time in the past six seasons. Wichita State, meanwhile, hit the reset button after a 28-31 season.
The Shockers brought back former Wichita State catcher Eric Wedge as its new head coach, pulling in a leader who won 774 Major League Baseball games as the manager of the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners across 10 seasons. While two of the Shockers’ three projected starting pitchers are returners, Wichita State will send its own junior college right-hander, Jake Hamilton, to the mound in Friday’s season opener.
Right-hander Liam Eddy (5-8, 5.04 in 2019) will oppose Michel (2-2, 4.41 in 2018) in Saturday’s 2 p.m. matchup before right-hander Preston Snavely (3-4, 6.21) duels against Harmon in Sunday’s finale.
The series marks the start of an eight-game, season-opening homestand for the Demons, who are scheduled to play 35 home games in 2020 at Brown-Stroud Field, which underwent further renovations in the offseason.
“We’ve got the new stadium, and it will be great to open up with a perennial powerhouse in Wichita State,” Barbier said. “They have a new coach, and it will be nice for them to see Natchitoches. It’s exciting to have so many games at home. When you have those home games then go on the road for two weeks, you can lose that engagement with the fans. Hopefully, we’ll get off to a good start, and we’ll be home for a little while.”
While the Demons must replace all but 75 1-3 innings from their 2019 pitching staff, they return several offensive starters, including second-team preseason All-Southland Conference outfielder Tyler Smith.
Smith, a senior from Franklinton, led the Demons with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs in 2019. He enters his final Northwestern State season three home runs shy of the NSU career top 10 and could find himself among the program’s top 10 career leaders in several categories by the close of the season.
In addition to ranking 146th on the NCAA’s listing of the top hitters by analytics a season ago, Smith has recorded 22 career outfield assists, showcasing his all-around ability.
“I’m so proud of Tyler,” Barbier said. “You guys see more of the top-150 hitter in the country type of things, but I see when he got here as a freshman. He played a decent amount then, but he has grown so much as a man in the past four years and shown tremendous growth as a player. He’s one of the neatest stories to me as a coach. He’s been such a joy to coach over these four years, and I’m glad we get one last run with him.”
Friday’s game will air on 95.9 FM Kix Country and the Demon Sports Network while streaming audio and video of all three games will be available through http://www.NSUDemons.com.
The weekend series is part of Super 1 Foods Kids Weekend at Northwestern State. All children’s tickets for NSU sporting events this weekend are discounted to $3. As always, members of Vic’s Kids Club are admitted free to Demons and Lady Demons home games.
Friday: Wichita State RHP Jake Hamilton at Northwestern State RHP Logan Hofmann
Saturday: Wichita State RHP Liam Eddy (5-8, 5.04) at Northwestern State LHP Reed Michel (2-2, 4.41 – 2018 stats)
Sunday: Wichita State RHP Preston Snavely (3-4, 6.21) at Northwestern State RHP Johnathan Harmon
Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services