NEW ORLEANS – When the wind shifted along Lake Ponchartrain on Sunday, the Northwestern State baseball team’s offensive fortunes did alongside it.
Held hitless into the fifth inning, the Demons erupted with a nine-run sixth inning, setting off an avalanche of runs in a 16-10 Southland Conference win against New Orleans at Maestri Field that clinched the weekend series for NSU.
“I thought their starter (Collin Horton) had good stuff,” sixth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “It was hard to settle in because he walked us a few times. We couldn’t get a big hit with men on base. Then the conditions shifted, and we strung together a bunch of good at-bats. We had nine good at-bats in a row with eight hard contacts and a walk mixed in. Sometimes on Sundays, you have to do things like that. We hadn’t won like that in a while. It was nice to see our guys win in a different way.”
The Demons (12-12, 2-1 SLC) managed only Jeffrey Elkins’ one-out, fifth-inning single off Horton in 4 2-3 innings, but the NSU offense drew seven walks, including Cole Horton’s game-tying, bases-loaded free pass in the fifth.
Although reliever Jacob Lamkin (0-1) wiggled out of trouble to strand the bases loaded, Northwestern State’s offense took out its share of frustrations on Lamkin in the sixth.
In the first two games of the series, the Demons had managed one hit in 7 1-3 innings against UNO relievers Jack Williams and Tod Gauthe. In the final 4 1-3 innings of Sunday’s game, Northwestern State banged out 13 hits off eight New Orleans relievers.
Eight of those hits came in a nine-batter span in the sixth inning, starting with Gabe Colaianni’s single to center field. By the time Larson Fontenot capped the surge with a two-run home run over the center-field wall, Northwestern State had a 10-1 advantage and the scoring onslaught for both teams was under way.
Drayton Brown (3-2) matched Horton nearly pitch for pitch for the first five innings, allowing one run on an RBI double that was aided by an extremely high sky, allowing it to fall untouched in left field.
Making the sixth start of his NSU career, Brown kept the Privateers (13-9, 1-2) off the board until Jeissy De La Cruz’ three-run home run in the sixth inning.
Elkins made sure there would be no shutdown inning in the seventh as New Orleans called on closer Caleb Seroski to try to keep the game close. Elkins jumped on Seroski’s first pitch, driving it out to left for a solo home run to start the seventh.
Elkins’ blast opened a five-run inning highlighted by Bryce Holmes’ first home run as a Demon – a three-run shot off Seroski, who entered the game with a 0.75 ERA.
“It feels like the hard work is paying off,” said Holmes, who finished the game 2-for-4 with a double, a home run and five RBIs. “I didn’t start the season with the results I wanted, but it’s about putting your nose to the grindstone, not giving up. It’s not always about the results. It’s about passing the torch and helping the team in whatever way you can.”
Holmes’ first home run came in his first Northwestern State start at first base.
“That’s always tough, especially in a position where you handle the ball so much,” Barbier said. “We practiced over there a little. We knew he could do it. He’s done it before in his college career. It was good to go out and be comfortable.”
UNO kept the Demons from getting too comfortable as the Privateers answered NSU’s five-run seventh with one of their own – again taking advantage of a ball lost in the sun to tack on a couple of runs.
The Demons, though, had enough cushion because of their nine-run sixth to collect a pivotal road series win to start conference play.
“You get your heart broken Friday,” Barbier said. “They scored two in the ninth inning to beat you in the first conference game of the season, and you come out and play really well (Saturday) and start swinging the bats really good (Sunday). I’m really proud of the weekend.
“From the stuff we did over in Arabi (cleaning up tornado debris), which was probably the most important part of the weekend, to them finishing after hitting some adversity, I’m just proud of our team for how they came together this weekend.”
Northwestern State returns to action Friday when they host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the opener of a three-game Southland Conference series. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.
Northwestern State 16, New Orleans 10
NSU 000 019 510 – 16 14 2
UNO 100 003 510 – 10 10 1
W – Drayton Brown (3-2). L – Jacob Lamkin (0-1). 2B – NSU, Cole Horton, Bryce Holmes, Gabe Colaianni. UNO, Anthony Herron Jr., Travis Gober 2. HR – NSU, Jeffrey Elkins (5), Bryce Holmes (1), Larson Fontenot (2). UNO, Jeissy De La Cruz (3). Highlights: NSU, Elkins 3-6, HR, 2 RBIs; Holmes 2-4, 2B, HR, 5 RBIs; Fontenot 2-5, HR, 2 RBIs; Colaianni 2-4, 2B, RBI. UNO, Herron Jr. 2-5, 2B, 2 RBIs; De La Cruz 3-5, HR, 5 RBIs; Gober 2-5, 2 2Bs, 2 RBIs.
Records: Northwestern State 12-12, 2-1; New Orleans 13-9, 1-2.
PHOTO: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services