NATCHITOCHES – The first seven-plus innings of Sunday’s game against Wichita State belonged to the future of the Northwestern State baseball pitching staff.
The end came down to the elder statesman of the staff.
Freshman right-handers Johnathan Harmon and Drake Smith spun almost eight innings of stellar baseball before fifth-year senior Kyle Swanson shut the door in a 3-2, series-clinching win against Wichita State at Brown-Stroud Field.
“They pitched great,” Barbier said. “Anyone watching the game or reading a box score can see that. It wasn’t about the results, although those were great, but just the way they owned the mound. We’ve talked about it, especially with those two guys, about having some attitude and owning the mound. They did that, and hopefully we can build off that.”
Harmon gave the Demons (2-1) six strong innings in his collegiate debut, scattering three hits and a run. Smith (1-0) followed with 1 2-3 innings of relief, retiring the first five batters he faced before running into a little trouble.
After Smith allowed a two-out, eighth-inning single and walked a batter with the Demons leading 3-1, Barbier turned to Swanson.
Swanson surrendered an RBI single to Ross Cadena before retiring Garrett Kocis to preserve NSU’s one-run lead before working around a single and a passed ball to strike out Derek Shaver to secure the win and Swanson’s first save since April 22, 2017.
Since that save against McNeese, Swanson has undergone back surgery and missed all but two games of the 2018 season. His fifth career save came via 1 1-3 scoreless innings of work.
“Being able to come out here and get back to where I was is awesome,” said Swanson, who recently was accepted into Sam Houston State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. “It was easy to follow the freshmen we had out there today. I’ve been talking to both of them all week, telling them the stuff I wish I knew when I was a freshman coming in. You see them go out and perform, and it looks like they’ve been doing it for two or three years.”
Harmon bounced back from allowing a solo home run to Couper Cornblum in the third inning to keep the deficit at one before Smith took over and worked a clean seventh inning, setting up the third big inning of the weekend for the Demons.
Wichita State starter Preston Snavely (0-1) gave the Shockers a third straight strong start, shutting NSU out through six innings before tiring in the seventh.
Lenni Kunert’s one-out single started a rally that freshman Daunte Stuart extended with a two-out walk before freshman pinch hitter Cole Horton singled off leaping Shockers shortstop Derek Shaver’s glove to load the bases.
Pinch hitter Kendall Foster then drew a walk on a full-count pitch from Connery Peters to tie the game and set up Foster’s biggest play of his three-game NSU career.
With the bases loaded and Foster at first, Cam Sibley grounded a ball back up the middle to Shaver at shortstop. Shaver laid back on the play, allowing Foster to beat the flip to second base.
Pinch runner Chaney Dodge, who entered for Horton, never stopped rounding third base and beat Jack Sigrist’s relay home to complete the two-run fielder’s choice and cap the three-run inning.
“You had two guys who sat over there the entire series until the seventh inning who affected the game in Cole and Chaney,” Barbier said. “Both affected it in a positive way. When you have guys who can run, it does that for you. You can steal a base here or there or make a great play like Tyler Smith did in right field (in the ninth inning). It’s good to involve a lot of people. I’m proud of them for being ready to go when they’re called on.”
The Demons’ eight-game, season-opening homestand continues Tuesday when they host UL Monroe at 6 p.m. in the first mid-week game of the season.
Northwestern State 3, Wichita State 2
WSU 001 000 010 – 2 6 0
NSU 000 000 30x – 3 6 0
W – Drake Smith (1-0). L – Preston Snavely (0-1). S – Kyle Swanson (1). HR – WSU, Couper Cornblum (1). Highlights: WSU, Jack Sigrist 2-4; Hunter Gibson 2-4.
Records: Wichita State 1-2; Northwestern State 2-1.