Demons head to Sam Houston in first road SLC series since 2019

For the first time in 22 months, the Northwestern State baseball team will play a Southland Conference series away from Brown-Stroud Field.

Yet, that series happens in the same place as the Demons’ most recent SLC road swing – Don Sanders Stadium, the home of Sam Houston in Huntsville, Texas. The four-game conference series opens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, continues with a 2 p.m. Saturday doubleheader and wraps up with a 1 p.m. Sunday single game.

“It’s been a long time since we played a conference series on the road,” said fifth-year head coach Bobby Barbier, whose team played all four weekends – including one conference series – at home in 2020 before the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic shut down college sports.

“The intensity’s different. The energy’s different when you play those conference series on the road. For us to go play a team like Sam and then Abilene (Christian) after our (non-conference) weekend against South Al(abama), it’s going to be a good test for us.”

The Demons (7-7, 2-2) have been tested on virtually every pitch for the past week.

Northwestern State has played five straight one-run games dating to a 3-2 loss to Austin Peay in the March 7 series finale with the Governors. Three of NSU’s six wins during its recently completed 10-game homestand came in its final at-bat, including two walk-off wins.

“I think playing tight games makes you better,” Barbier said. “Having that atmosphere where with every pitch the game is on the line makes you perform under pressure. You can fool yourself when games aren’t at hand every moment. Sure I’d love for us to win by three or for runs, but it will be good for us.”

While the Demons split their conference-opening series with Incarnate Word, Sam Houston (3-10, 0-4) endured a rough opening weekend at Southeastern Louisiana.

The Bearkats’ series with the Lions featured a pair of one-run games that went against Sam Houston as Southeastern Louisiana grabbed walk-off wins in each of Saturday’s games.

“They’re a good team and were picked first (in the conference preseason poll) for a reason,” Barbier said of the Bearkats, who defeated Rice and No. 13 TCU two weekends ago at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. “They’ve got good players. They ran into Southeastern, who’s been playing really well. It’s a good challenge for us. It’s good for our team to go on the road and play a team like that.”

The Demons will try to carry whatever momentum remains from Sunday’s walk-off win against Incarnate Word, which NSU won on Cameron Parikh’s sacrifice fly that followed Cam Sibley’s two-strike, game-tying RBI triple.

Sibley went 2-for-4 with an RBI double and an RBI triple, battling through injuries that cost him the entire Austin Peay series from March 5-7. Parikh’s sacrifice fly was his second RBI in the final two innings after entering off the bench.

“We trust a lot of guys who haven’t had a lot of opportunities because of how this season is set up,” Barbier said. “They have stayed ready, because you never know when the opportunity will happen.”

The Demons will go with the same starting rotation from their first four-game conference series – right-hander Johnathan Harmon (1-2, 4.12) in Friday’s opener and left-hander Cal Carver (2-1, 0.79) and right-hander Levi David (0-1, 4.20) in Saturday’s doubleheader. Barbier has not announced a starter for Sunday’s finale.

Sam Houston will counter with right-hander Tyler Davis (2-1, 5.65) on Friday and left-hander Matt Dillard (0-2, 5.63) in Saturday’s opening game of the doubleheader. The Bearkats have not announced starters for the final two games of the series.

Series Probables

Friday: Northwestern State RHP Johnathan Harmon (1-2, 4.12) at Sam Houston RHP Tyler Davis (2-1, 5.65)

Saturday: Northwestern State LHP Cal Carver (2-1, 0.79)/RHP Levi David (0-1, 4.20) at Sam Houston LHP Matt Dillard (0-2, 5.63)/TBA

Sunday: Northwestern State TBA vs. Sam Houston TBA

Photo Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services