RUSTON, La. – In softball momentum is only as good as the next starting pitcher. Following an opening weekend with four quality pitching performances, Northwestern State stands to build plenty of early-season momentum beginning with their first midweek game of the year.
The Lady Demons (3-1) begin a lengthy road trip to Chattanooga this weekend with a stop at Louisiana Tech (4-1) on Wednesday evening for a 6 p.m. first pitch at Dr. Billy Bundrick Field against the Lady Techsters.
After three shutouts in their first three games of the year, including a pair of 1-0 wins against Chattanooga and UT Martin, the pitching staff was the biggest bright spot for NSU to open the 2022 season.
“The pitching really carried us this weekend and kept us in the games,” head coach Donald Pickett said. “We were struggling offensively and needed to put those zeros up and for them to come in and have their first college starts on Friday and get us two shutouts was huge to get us going.
“Overall, against the quality of opponents we played, being able to come out 3-1 is a great thing and we see so many things that we can improve on moving forward and we’re going to try and attack those in practice this week.”
True freshman Sage Hoover set the stage with a 10-strikeout shutout to open the season and redshirt freshman Maggie Darr followed by facing one over the minimum in another shutout where she allowed just one hit, retiring the first 10 and the final 11 batters in a row.
Her performance epitomized the next starting pitcher momentum adage.
“You want to snowball that run of good play and pitching that you have going,” Darr said about calming the nerves following Hoover’s opening win. “Sage really brought it out strong for the first game of the weekend, the first game of the season. Of course, you want to be there to back that up and keep it going forward.”
Kenzie Seely carried the torch in Saturday’s shutout of UT Martin and Bronte Rhoden allowed just one run in 4.1 against Baylor. Across four games with four different starting pitchers, the Lady Demons allowed two earned runs, a 0.50 ERA for the week, and held opponents to a .158 batting average.
“Our staff works really well,” Darr said. “We’re all very different pitchers and complement each other in ways that a lot of other teams don’t have. Every single one of us is different and builds on each other.
“Instead of worrying about one thing not working today or I didn’t pitch my best, we always have someone to pick us up and that’s a really powerful thing on this team.”
With the pitching off to a lighting start, it has allowed a little time for the offense to find its footing. NSU scored just six runs over the weekend to win three games but got clutch hits from a couple of different spots that could help jump start a talented group of swings.
“I think this weekend was really just to get the rust off,” transfer catcher Tristin Court said. “We’re going to work this week on shortening up and try to get base hits. I think we were worrying too much about trying to hit home runs all the time or do too much. After this past weekend I think we’ll calm down a little bit and it made the nerves go away so I’m looking forward to this week, I feel like our bats will come out more.”
NSU lived on the long ball through the first three games, with each of the first runs of the game coming on home runs. Laney Roos gave NSU the lead in the sixth with a solo shot and Kat Marshall’s pair opened the scoring against Pine Bluff and was the only run against UT Martin.
Shorter strokes and pitch recognition are what Pickett will be looking for against Tech on Wednesday and against a new set of teams this weekend in Tennessee.
“Right now, it’s making sure we’re swinging at good pitches and having good at-bats,” he said. “As we go, if we can do those things everything will fall into place, but we’re going to work this week on some things we struggled with over the weekend. I think the hitters may have been trying to do too much at times and the swings got a little long so we’re going to work on that heading into this week’s games and continue through the season.”
Photo: Gary Hardamon