Hoover, Darr dazzle in pair of opening-day wins

Northwestern State couldn’t have asked for a better day to open the 2022 softball season, and it couldn’t have asked for two better performances in the circle for the first two wins of the season.

Making their first career starts, freshman Sage Hoover and redshirt freshman Maggie Darr each through complete games, allowed just three combined hits and struck out 19 as the Lady Demons (2-0) picked up a pair of shutout wins, 1-0 against Chattanooga and 4-0 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

“They did great, were really confident and did the things we’ve seen them do in scrimmages and in practice,” head coach Donald Pickett said. “They work hard for us and it really plays off for us on days like today. We struggled offensively but made some plays behind them on defense and really just proud of them for going out there taking the ball and being confident.

“For them to come out on opening day and be able to handle the anxiety, the excitement and the emotions and do what they did, I’m really happy for them and believe they’re going to do great the rest of the year.”

It only took a handful of key hits in both games for the Lady Demons to provide enough offense to support the dominant pitching efforts.

Laney Roos provided the back-breaking blow to Chattanooga with a one-out home run to left center in the bottom of the sixth, and Kat Marshall cleared the left field wall in the fourth against UAPB to start a four-run frame that gave plenty of insurance to Darr.

“We kept adjusting during the game, but in the early innings we weren’t able to do a lot,” Pickett said. “We got a couple of runners on early against Chattanooga but couldn’t make something happen. Laney (Roos) came up and got that big hit in the sixth and the Kat (Marshall) came through against Pine Bluff. When you’re struggling hitting sometimes you have to hope for that big hit, and we got a couple today.”

NSU continues play in the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission Lady Demon Classis with two more games scheduled for Saturday. First pitch against UT Martin is scheduled for approximately 11:30, or 30 minutes following the day’s opening game that starts at 9 a.m. The Lady Demons then take on Baylor 30 minutes after their game with the Skyhawks.

NSU 1, Chattanooga 0

The nerves of your first collegiate start being an opening-day start quickly faded for Hoover who struck out the first two batters she faced as Lady Demon, retiring the side in order on 11 pitches.

“It’s really crazy being a freshman getting the first start of the year,” Hoover said. “There’s nerves there but also so much excitement. I was so ready to play after scrimmaging against each other so many times just ready to get out there and play someone else.”

After an efficient start, Hoover saw her first pressure situation after a pair of errors put runners at first and second with one out. An easy pop up to second and a quick snag and tag by Maggie Black at third base ended the frame with no damage done.

Hoover navigated three more runners-on situations in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, getting key strikeouts in two of the frames and a big defensive help in the other.

“Really felt like my rise ball was my best pitch today,” she said. “I was able to throw it low and get them to foul it off. My curveball wasn’t great, but I have so many different pitches to back it up that I wasn’t worried about it. And the defense was great behind me today, so I felt pretty good the whole game.”

As Hoover was dancing through trouble for the Lady Demons, Chattanooga’s Brooke Parrott was doing the same in the bottom halves of the innings. After retiring the lineup in order the first time through, NSU threatened in the fourth with runners at second and third and two out but left runners stranded.

A lead-off walk in the fifth was also left wanting to send the game to the sixth inning with no runs for either side.

Roos was finally able to break through with one swing off the bat as she cleared the left field wall in the bottom of the sixth to give Hoover and the Lady Demons all the run support needed to notch the first win for both.

“It’s hard when it’s 0-0, because if you give up one run then they’re up and you don’t want that to happen,” Hoover said. “So when she hit that I felt relief, relaxed and so much better going into the seventh inning. I was ready to go.”

The freshman from Edgewood, Texas, ended her day in the circle the same way she started it – striking out the first two batters and inducing a soft ground ball on the infield to end the game – using her change up to seal the deal.

“At the beginning of the game it wasn’t working,” Hoover said about the off-speed pitch. “I couldn’t get that drive and pop I needed but I finally found it. It was good to use a different pitch at the end of the game instead of the rise ball to throw them off balance.”

NSU 4, UAPB 0

After a gem from Hoover in the first game of the day, Darr provided her own diamond-level performance in the second.

She retired the first 10 batter of the game in order before a base hit found its way just out of reach of the glove of short stop Keely DuBois in the fourth inning, the only hit and base runner of the day for the Golden Lions. Darr was efficient and effective in her start getting first-pitch strikes on 17 of the 22 batters she faced on the day, just one over the minimum for the seven-inning game.

The NSU offense produced four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning that likely felt like 40 runs thanks to Darr’s dominance.

The initial spark came against off the bat of Roos, who led the inning with a single through the left side. Two batters later, Marshall unloaded a ball deep over the left field wall, her second extra-base hit of the day, to give the Lady Demons 2-0 lead.

Tristin Court immediately followed with a double that banged off the wall and Maggie Black reached on an infield single for the third straight hit of the inning. After a Nani Winger walk loaded the bases, Taylor Williams dumped a ball into left to bring in two more runs another double.

“I think we really focused the second time through the lineup on just getting our hands through the ball and extending through it instead of trying to make that big swing and getting underneath the ball,” Marshall said about the big inning. “She was working mostly middle-out and had been throwing a low rise ball so I was trying to lay off of that and wait for the ball to come middle-out and attack.”

The four runs provided plenty of cushion for Darr in the circle who retired the final eight batters of the game in order after the fourth-inning single and struck out the side in the seventh for her first career win.

“All of our pitchers have been working extremely, extremely hard all year,” Marshall said. “We’ve been facing them in practice and we knew they were going to be dominant when they came out here.”

Photo: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services


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