Northwestern State grinded through a back-and-forth game with rival Stephen F. Austin on Sunday, coming up with key plays, important outs and big hits in a 5-4 win to take the opening-weekend series.
After Drayton Brown gave the Demons (2-1) five solid innings, allowing just three hits and two runs, both coming on a fourth-inning home run, the Demon offense answered the call each time it was needed down the stretch. Daunte Stuart’s go-ahead double in the bottom of the eighth served as the final reply to secure the victory.
“I thought we kept going,” head coach Bobby Barbier said. “That’s important in these weekend series. Things aren’t always going to be nice and easy. I thought we played clean defense and we swung the bats good.
“On the mound out of the bullpen those guys have been really good for us in the fall and early spring and, for one reason or another, some of them didn’t have it like we’re used to seeing. We still trust those guys tremendously, but we’ve got to come out with a little more intent and that’s something they’ll learn. But I’m proud of them. Proud of the team and the way we fought, and we’ll learn from this like we learn from any game, win or lose.”
Down by a pair after the homer in the top of the fourth put them behind, the Demons saw the first three batters reach base in the bottom of the inning. Jeffrey Elkins sent a pitch right back through the middle to bring Broch Holmes in to score.
On a sailing throw back in from center that went all the way to the back stop, the NSU runners were caught between nearly every base trying to advance as SFA (1-2) scrambled to recover the ball. After an attempt to get Elkins diving back into first failed, the through back to third in an attempt to cut down Gray Rowlett, led to an interference call by the umpire. The call sent Rowlett to the plate and evened the game at two.
NSU took the lead in the bottom of the next inning with on a Cole Horton knock through the left side but left the bags full with a strikeout to end the inning.
The Lumberjack answer came in the next half inning as NSU went to the bullpen for the first time, but Stuart’s first clutch hit of the game put the Demons back ahead 4-3 with an RBI single up the middle in the sixth.
SFA got an RBI single of its own in the seventh and loaded the bases looking to take the lead, but Alex Makarewich got a hugely important strikeout of Cal Martin, who had three of the four SFA RBIs on the day, to end the inning.
Another threat presented itself in the top of the eighth but the steady NSU defense stifled the Lumberjacks.
With the go-ahead runner at third, catcher Bailyn Sorensen gunned down the potential base stealer at second for the second out of the inning allowing reliever Donovan Ohnoutka to get out the inning with the score still even at four.
“We made a big play to throw the guy out at second on the attempted steal,” Barbier said. “That really let him (Ohnoutka) settle down and come back out like he normally is with his good stuff. Bailyn really did a good job there picking him up. That’s what we have to be, and we prepare for that. The game isn’t always going to be roses and fairy tales, it’s a tough, hard game to play. We need to have each other’s back, pick each other up and I thought we did that today.”
The steal that didn’t work for SFA in the top of the inning, was executed to perfection by NSU in the bottom of the inning. Larson Fontenot slid into scoring position with a swipe of second after a two-out single to right put the go-ahead runner on base, setting the table for Stuart’s game winner.
“The guy was a really good pitcher so I was just doing the best I could to stay in the at bat,” Stuart said. “The stolen base just kind of happened on its own. I was just trying to stay in there, battle and see what I could do to score a run because I knew we needed it.
“I was just looking for a fastball there and do my best to adjust. He had some really good stuff I knew I couldn’t make any mistakes while he was up there.”
Ohnoutka finished the ninth to pick up his first win of the season, with a hitless final 1 2-3 innings.
Fontenot and Stuart combined for six of the 12 hits for NSU in the game with Cole Horton adding a pair in a 2-for-4 day and every batter in the lineup reaching base either by a hit or a walk on the day.
Photo: Gary Hardamon