As the Northwestern State baseball team begins its 2022 season, it does so against a very familiar opponent.
The Demons start their new campaign at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Brown-Stroud Field against former Southland Conference rival Stephen F. Austin, the team NSU faced in its final regular-season series of 2021. The series also includes a 2 p.m. Saturday matchup and a 1 p.m. Sunday matinee series finale.
“We’ve played against those guys,” said head coach Bobby Barbier, who opens his sixth year at the helm of his alma mater. “Two of the three starting pitchers are guys we saw in our last couple of games of last year. It’s the same on their end. We’re going to run out a couple of guys who were the same guys last year. There were some negatives with those teams leaving the conference, but one good thing is we can play some non-conference games with like opponents who are close. It’s good to have these guys and others who will be on our schedule in the future.”
The Demons (27-26 in 2021) dropped three of four games to the Lumberjacks (20-31) in Nacogdoches in late May before NSU’s final four regular-season games against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi were rained out.
“We didn’t have the best series over there last year,” senior center fielder Larson Fontenot said. “It’s nice to have them come over here so we can try to make up for it.”
A fifth-year senior who led NSU with a .300 batting average in 2021, Fontenot is one of several veterans in the NSU lineup, joining fifth-year junior Jeffrey Elkins (6 home runs), preseason first-team All-Southland Conference second baseman Daunte Stuart (7 HRs, 30 RBIs) and third-year starting shortstop Cam Sibley (12 extra-base hits).
Coupled with a starting rotation that returns first-team preseason All-Southland Conference starting pitcher Cal Carver (6-5, 3.19) and right-hander Johnathan Harmon (4-4, 5.37), NSU’s experience has Barbier feeling “comfortable.”
Drayton Brown (2-3, 1.96), who led NSU with six saves, joins Carver and Harmon in the weekend rotation.
“You feel comfortable as a coach when you run out guys who have done it before, guys who have been through the fire, guys who you trust,” Barbier said. “That’s one thing you can say about those guys. It will be a little different for Drayton, moving into the starting rotation. We’re able to do that because we have guys who have solidified the back of the game for us. It’s good to have that trust with those three starters.”
While the Demons will send out familiar faces in the rotation and have a good number of returners in the lineup, Barbier said he expects a healthy mix of newcomers and returners to take the field in Friday night’s season opener.
Newcomer or veteran, the Demons are eager to face someone in a different shade of purple after fall and spring intrasquad competition.
“As long as I’ve been here, I know about pitching against the Demons,” said sixth-year senior right-hander Donovan Ohnoutka, a second-team preseason All-Southland Conference selection. “I’m ready to see some different competition and show them what we’ve got.
“We’ve got a really good group. We have older guys who have come back, myself included, and some younger guys who have shown promise and talent and hard work, too. We’re a hard-working team, and I think we have something special.”
Series Probables (2021 stats)
Friday: Stephen F. Austin RHP Joe Richter (TR-Southeastern CC) at Northwestern State LHP Cal Carver (6-5, 3.19)
Saturday: Stephen F. Austin LHP Cully Mangus (0-1, 7.43) at Northwestern State RHP Johnathan Harmon (4-4, 5.37)
Sunday: Stephen F. Austin RHP Joe Todd (3-4, 4.79) at Northwestern State RHP Drayton Brown (2-3, 1.96)
Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services
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