NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State baseball team will get back to a sense of normalcy this weekend.
At least it will feel like what once was normal for the Demons and most of college baseball.
Northwestern State steps out of Southland Conference play on a weekend for the final time this season, hosting South Alabama of the Sun Belt Conference in a three-game series that begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
The series also includes single games on Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.). Free streaming audio and subscription video is available for all three games on http://www.NSUDemons.com and through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices.
“I told my wife it will feel like a day off Saturday, playing only one game, but it’s good,” fifth-year coach Bobby Barbier said. “It will give us a little bit of a break. These four-game weekends are tough on the kids, tough on their bodies. That turnaround from Friday to about 7 p.m. Saturday when you’ve played 20-something innings can wear on them. We’ve tried to manage it during practice. We’ve talked to some other coaches about how they handle it.”
The Demons (9-9) have not played a three-game series since hosting Austin Peay from March 5-7. Following this weekend, the final eight series of the season for Northwestern State are four-game Southland Conference matchups.
NSU has split its first two conference series and took two of three games in two of its three non-conference series to open the season.
South Alabama (10-9), meanwhile, has won four of its past five games, including a Sun Belt series win against UT Arlington this past weekend.
The Jaguars lead the Sun Belt Conference in ERA (3.71) while the offense features preseason All-American outfielder Ethan Wilson (.297, 2 HR, 9 RBIs) and one .300 hitter – Michael Sandle (.320, 1 HR, 10 RBIs).
“We’re getting our fair share of talented hitters to see,” Barbier said. “They hurt your mistakes, and most of the time, it’s more than a single. You saw that with (Colton) Cowser last weekend. It’s good for us to see good hitters like that. You don’t want those guys to beat you, but we’re not going to walk them every time either.”
The Demons will tweak their starting rotation this weekend because of next week’s Thursday-Saturday series at Abilene Christian.
Right-hander Johnathan Harmon (1-2, 3.60) and left-hander Cal Carver (3-1, 0.91) will start the first two games as they have the first five weekends of the season. Senior right-hander Peyton Graham will make his first appearance of the season, starting Sunday’s game.
The Northwestern State staff will have to cover 27 innings this weekend instead of between 30-34 on a Southland Conference weekend this season.
“We’ll do a few things different with our pitchers this weekend to prepare for next week,” Barbier said. “We still need to get some guys more work. We’ve had starters pitching deep into games – which is good. We have guys down there in the bullpen that we need, and they need to get some work.”
South Alabama will counter with an all right-handed rotation, fronted by Jeremy Lee, whose 2.52 ERA ranks fourth in the Sun Belt.
“(Lee) is tremendous,” Barbier said. “He’s pitched really well. It’s good to get them to come to town, which is something we don’t get very often. I’m glad coach (Mark) Calvi decided to come up, and we’ll have a good series.”
Friday: South Alabama RHP Jeremy Lee (1-1, 2.52) at Northwestern State RHP Johnathan Harmon (1-2, 3.60)
Saturday: South Alabama RHP Matt Boswell (1-0, 3.98) at Northwestern State LHP Cal Carver (3-1, 0.91)
Sunday: South Alabama RHP JoJo Booker (1-0, 4.28) at Northwestern State RHP Peyton Graham (Season Debut)
Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services