ABILENE, Texas – Eleven-plus innings passed Thursday night and it appeared the big hit was going to evade the Northwestern State baseball team again.
Not only did Ryan Zimmerman change that narrative, he and Marshall Skinner turned it on its head.
Zimmerman’s two-run single and Skinner’s three-run home run accounted for five of the Demons’ six runs in the 12th inning, lifting Northwestern State to an 8-2 Southland Conference series-opening victory at Crutcher Scott Field.
“All of the guys who came off the bench did a really good job,” fifth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “Larson (Fontenot) leads off with a single and makes a great dirt-ball read to give us the lead. Zim and then Marshall came through with the big hits. We had better at-bats earlier in the game. We only scored two early and we left some guys out there, but I thought we had some good at-bats against some really good arms.”
After Fontenot started the 12th with a single, Daunte Stuart followed with a one-out double to put runners on second and third. Tanner Riley (5-1) intentionally walked Cam Sibley and was ahead 0-2 on Cameron Parikh when Riley issued a wild pitch, allowing Fontenot to score.
Parikh coaxed a walk before Zimmerman punched a two-run, pinch-hit single through the left side. Skinner followed with his second home run, a three-run opposite-field shot to put the game away.
The Demons (11-12, 5-4) again received stellar pitching from right-handers Johnathan Harmon and Drayton Brown (1-1).
Harmon scattered five hits through 6 1-3 innings, allowing two runs before Brown relieved him and turned in his best effort of an already-successful freshman season.
A product of Hallsville (Texas) High School, Brown took over from Harmon with one on in the seventh inning and induced the third double play the Demons turned on the night.
That set the tone for Brown, who worked a career-long 5 2-3 scoreless innings to earn his first career victory. Included in Brown’s effort was the ability to strand the potential winning run at third base in the 10th inning.
“Drayton was phenomenal, and Johnny got us into the seventh,” Barbier said. “You can’t ask for more. Drayton’s just tough. He wants to be in the game in the tight spots. He gets mad at me when I take him out. He has the mentality of finishing the game. It took a little while tonight, but the players trust him because of that.”
Harmon pitched into the seventh inning thanks in part to Skinner’s ability behind the plate limiting the Abilene Christian (15-9, 7-6) running game.
The Demon catcher threw out a pair of runners in the sixth inning, one on a ball in the dirt and one on a caught stealing.
“You can affect the game in different ways, even if you’re not swinging the bat well,” Barbier said. “Johnny wasn’t sharp in the sixth, and Marshall helped him out. Sometimes good defense leads to good offense like you saw late in the game.”
Northwestern State tallied eight hits with eight different players recording one. Zimmerman had his first career multi-RBI game while Skinner matched his career high with three RBIs.
Grayson Tatrow went 3-for-5 to pace Abilene Christian’s nine-hit attack.
The series continues Friday with a 2:05 p.m. doubleheader. Left-hander Cal Carver (3-1, 1.30) and right-hander Levi David (1-2, 3.86) will start for the Demons while Abilene Christian will counter with right-hander Genner Cervantes (4-0, 6.44) and left-hander Adam Stephenson (0-3, 5.40).
Northwestern State 8, Abilene Christian 2, 12 innings
NSU 000 020 000 006 – 8 8 0
ACU 000 010 100 000 – 2 9 1
W – Drayton Brown (1-1). L – Tanner Riley (5-1). 2B – NSU, Daunte Stuart, Jeffrey Elkins. ACU, Hunter Gieser. HR – NSU, Marshall Skinner (2). Highlights: ACU, Colton Eager 2-4; Gieser 2-5, 2B. Grayson Tatrow 3-5.
Records: Northwestern State 11-12, 5-4; Abilene Christian 15-9, 7-6.
Photo: Ryan Zimmerman had a key two-run single in Northwestern State’s 8-2 win at Abilene Christian on Thursday.