YOUNGSVILLE – Northwestern State has faced some quality opposition through the first two weeks of the season. That list will grow significantly this weekend in this year’s edition of the Mardi Gras Mambo hosted by Southeastern.
After splitting their six-game slate a week ago, the Lady Demons (6-4) play another five-games in three days starting with Friday’s doubleheader against Lipscomb (2 p.m.) and Eastern Illinois (4 p.m.). The No. 2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide await the Lady Demons at 3 p.m. on Saturday, followed by new-to-Division-I St. Thomas at 5 p.m.
NSU closes the weekend with the defending Big Sky Conference champions Portland State on Sunday in a single game starting at 11 a.m. Live stat links will be available for Saturday’s game against Alabama and the Sunday finale with Portland State.
“We’ve got another tough weekend ahead of us with a lot of quality teams,” head coach Donald Pickett said”. We’re going to have to be able to play well in all three phases of the game to make sure that we’re doing what we need to be doing to have our best chance at winning some games.”
The battle-tested Lady Demons have had four of their past six games, and a total of six already this season, decided by two runs or less. Early dominance in the pitching circle has kept the games close and down to the wire and given an offense that is still finding its groove a chance for a big hit.
Laney Roos’ two-run double against Louisiana Tech and her seventh-inning grand slam against SIUE served as prime examples of an offense that is beginning to figure things out. Lead-off batter Bailie Ragsdale had 10 hits a week ago, Keely DuBois added a pair of doubles and Taylor Williams has had a hit in five of the past six game.
“We were in a lot of games,” Pickett said about the weekend in Chattanooga. “We won a few, but offensively we’ve just not got it together yet, but we had some bright spots and some good things happenings and starting to turn the corner there.
“We’ve got some growing pains to get through, but I think we have a really good foundation and one we’re going to be able to build off. I think we’re going to be able to do some great things; it’s just going to take a little more time than we all want.”
Pitching has been the key for the Lady Demons in the close games. NSU holds the top three individual spots in the Southland Conference in ERA, opponent’s batting average and runs and earned runs allowed.
With a 1.21 team ERA, NSU ranks 11th in the country, having not allowed more than five runs in a single game this year with four shutouts, 10th most in the NCAA. The staff has a 5-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio as well, the 15th best mark in the country.
Maggie Darr earned Southland Pitcher of the Week honors thanks in large part to her 14-strikeout game and second shutout against Purdue Fort Wayne. Sage Hoover added a pair of double-digit strikeout performances on the week to move her to the top of the SLC leader board with 36. Kenzie Seely allowed just three runs on six hits in 11 innings of work with 13 strikeouts last week.
The success each pitcher has seen this year, according Pickett, comes directly from the personality and work ethic of first-year assistant and pitching coah Lexi Smith.
“Her energy and passion for the sport shows them really what it takes to be successful,” he said. “She’s done a great job with them and for our team in general. I’m proud of her and proud of those kids for being responsive to somebody new coming in, being open minded and buying in to what she’s doing.
“When you get somebody like Lexi with some talented pitchers, I think they’re going to do a lot great things. They have so far this year and I think they’ll continue that through the rest of the season.”
Photo credit: Gary Hardamon