By Bud Denega, Sports Information Graduate Assistant
NATCHITOCHES — Northwestern State softball head coach Donald Pickett knew Tuesday was going to be a good day. The sun came up unabated by any clouds, the temperatures were warming, water came back on in his home, and the Lady Demons were finally — after four different opening days failed — beginning the 2021 campaign.
The day earned the proverbial cherry on top with what NSU accomplished on the diamond. The Lady Demons swept a doubleheader from Grambling, winning by scores of 10-0 (five innings) and 9-1 (five innings).
“We bragged on them as a coaching staff after the game of how mature they were with approaching the games,” Pickett said. “With everything that has been thrown at them, to be able to come out here, and we talked about playing softball, and that’s not just playing again, but being in tune with what you’re trying to do and being competitive. A lot of things go into that, and our girls did a great job.”
The final results are a testament to that focused mindset. The Lady Demons got after the Tigers early and didn’t let up.
NSU pitchers combined to only allow one earned run on a total of five hits in the doubleheader. At the plate, the Lady Demons combined for 19 runs on 22 hits with nine extra base hits, two of which were home runs.
“We came out, and we had good defense, we had good pitching, and we had good hitting,” senior outfielder Kaitlyn St. Clair said. “We had all three phases working for us.”
The pair of victories pushes NSU’s all-time record against Grambling to 31-3. That dominance — and Tuesday night’s dominance — overshadows the fact that the Lady Demons have played much closer contests against the Tigers in recent memory.
The last three matchups with Grambling had been won by NSU in 3-1, 7-3 and 2-1 decisions. While victorious, the Lady Demons had to scrap for all seven innings. That’s what made Tuesday night all the more impressive.
“I think we did really well,” junior pitcher Jensen Howell said. “I think we were excited, which made it much more easy. I think we were just all in, and we got the job done.”
The Lady Demons will look to continue their strong play at the Jaguar Classic. NSU opens tournament play with SIU-Edwardsville on Friday at 10 a.m.
NSU 10, Grambling 0 (five innings)
Sophomore pitcher Bronte Rhoden set the tone for the doubleheader. She set a career-high in strikeouts with six, and scattered four hits in her scoreless five innings of work.
Much of Rhoden’s run support came via the home run. St. Clair blasted a two-run home jack to left in the fourth inning, which made it 7-0.
Sophomore third baseman Maggie Black put a bow on the game in the fifth. She launched a walk-off, three-run home run that officially run-ruled the Tigers.
Delafield, freshmen infielders Kat Marshall and Keely DuBois all boasted multi-hit games in the opener. A total of 16 players entered the contest, which is precisely what Pickett wanted.
“I’m glad we got a lot of people in,” Pickett said. “I would have loved to have a few more in. But just missing two weeks of games, I needed to make sure we were getting reps for those that needed them. But I thought we did a great job of getting people in.”
NSU 9, Grambling 1 (five innings)
Howell entered the nightcap having struggled in her bullpens leading up to the game. It’s safe to assume those kinks were worked out, as she dazzled in all four of her innings Tuesday.
“My last couple bullpens had been rocky, but when I got out there today, I just worked my butt off to make sure what I had been practicing in bullpen transferred over to the mound,” Howell said. “I was very pleased with what I did.”
Howell finished allowing zero hits, one walk with six strikeouts. She also helped out her own cause at the dish.
Howell opened the scoring with a two-run double in the second inning. She duplicated that two-run double, which capped the Lady Demons’ scoring for the night.
Junior second baseman Cayla Jones had a pair of RBIs, occurring off a two-run double of her own in the fourth frame. Sophomore catcher Alexis Perry also enjoyed a two-RBI night with a double that scored two in the fourth. Freshman third baseman Taylor Williams boasted two hits, one being a triple, in the nightcap of what was her first career collegiate day of softball.
Photo Credit: Chris Reich / NSU Photographic Services