By Bud Denega, Sports Information Graduate Assistant
NATCHITOCHES — There are plenty of parallels when looking at the three-game series between the Northwestern State softball team and Central Arkansas this weekend. Both squads are riding Southland Conference win streaks — the Lady Demons have won nine in a row, while the Bears have claimed a victory in six straight.
Both head coaches took over their respective programs in 2009 and have won north of 300 games in that span. NSU won the last three-game set between the two in 2019 and neither team has earned a sweep in any given series since 2016.
The end result is a slight 21-20 all-time series lead for NSU, and it’ll look to build on that advantage this weekend. Game 1 of a doubleheader is set for a 3 p.m. first pitch Friday at the Lady Demon Diamond, while the series concludes with a single game Saturday at 12 p.m.
“They’re a great program, and David does a great job up there year in and year out,” said NSU head coach Donald Pickett. “They’ve got experience back. They’re getting great pitching, playing great behind them, and they’ve kept opponents down.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough weekend.”
As alluded to, the Lady Demons are riding a hot streak. They’ve won nine of their last 10 games — the only loss occurring Tuesday at Louisiana Tech — and have outscored conference foes 63-10 through one-third of their league slate.
“This weekend is really important, and they understand that because we’ve got a mature team,” Pickett said. “We have a lot of experience on this team. They understand how all this stuff works, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they come back out this weekend, at home playing a quality opponent in UCA.”
The dominance is in no small part due to NSU’s rotation. The Lady Demons have three bonafide starters who have proven themselves thus far.
Each one brings something a little different to the circle. Junior Jensen Howell overpowers opponents, leading the team with 47 strikeouts in 40.2 innings pitched. Fellow junior E.C. Delafield owns a couple complete games — one being a no-hitter — which has produced a team-best 1.60 ERA in 43.2 innings pitched. Finally, sophomore Bronte Rhoden brings stability with a 2.60 ERA in 40.1 innings pitched.
“We’ve always usually had some diversity in our rotation, but there’s only been a couple years here where we’ve had three quality, experienced starters in the rotation,” Pickett said. “We’ve always had some young kids that are quality, but the experience these three have — in game situations and conference play — really helps us.”
Northwestern State’s bats have heated up, as well. Four players boast a batting average above .300, led by freshman infielder Kat Marshall who’s hitting .362. Delafield and senior outfielders Hayley Barbazon and Elise Vincent round out those top offensive performers.
Central Arkansas has a pair of hitters posting a batting average north of .400. Jenna Wildeman and Mary Kate Brown have batting averages of .458 and .418, respectively.
The Bears also have a pair of solid starting pitchers. Kayla Beaver and Jordan Johnson have each made 11 starts this season. Beaver has a 9-3 record and a 1.08 ERA, and Johnson owns a 6-4 record and a 2.36 ERA.
“They’re a quality team, and they’re experienced,” Pickett said. “That’s something that bodes well, and that’s similar to us. It’s another challenge for us to step out here and take advantage of the opportunity we have and come ready to play.”
Following the series against Central Arkansas, Northwestern State will hit the road for Beaumont. The Lady Demons battle Lamar in a three-game set beginning Friday.
Photo Credit: Chris Reich / NSU Photographic Services