HOUSTON – If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. That was the strategy for Northwestern State on Saturday afternoon, using the same formula from a pair of Friday wins to get a 7-1 win on Saturday and three-game sweep of Houston Baptist on the first weekend of Southland Conference play.
For the third straight game the Lady Demons (20-12, 3-0) got an early lead, scoring in the first inning, played sound defense and got a complete game performance from their starting pitcher to secure the first three wins of the conference slate.
“We were really sharp on defense today,” head coach Donald Pickett said. “Made some big plays and took some hits away from them, especially they’re leadoff hitter to keep her off the bases. Bronte (Rhoden) gave us a great start and for her to come out and pretty much dominate the game was huge.
“I would have liked to see a few better at bats during the game, we had one really good offensive inning in the fourth, but we couldn’t put much together in those other innings, but took advantage of some things in the first inning to get those runs.”
Like they did in the second game on Friday, the Lady Demons took advantage of Husky errors and free baserunners to take the early lead.
Four straight walks after a leadoff ground out gave NSU a 1-0 lead and forced an early moved to the bullpen for the Huskies. Keely DuBois benefited from the bases loaded pass for her fifth of six RBIs in the series and Kat Marshall added two more to the tally two batters later with a bloop single to left.
Just as it was in the first two games of the series, the early run support was more than enough for the Lady Demon starting pitcher.
Bronte Rhoden used a slightly different strategy than Sage Hoover did in the first game of the weekend of striking out 14 batters and relied on the defense behind her to produce outs. An easy decision and one that paid off for Rhoden and the Lady Demons.
The junior, on the day before her birthday, kept the ball off the barrel of the Husky hitters creating multiple soft grounders and weak pop ups on the infield. Of the 19 outs the defense recorded, just two were made by the outfield, with six of the eight balls in the air caught on the infield.
“It was amazing having that confidence behind me, knowing that they were there and making crazy plays the whole game,” Rhoden said. “Taylor (Williams) was diving and catching balls that we always do on those “ESPN” plays in practice and she got to live that out in the game. Our whole entire defense was just incredible today.”
Williams highlight diving catch came in the bottom of the first, the first of three outs she had a hand in on the inning for the busy NSU second baseman who had three putouts and five assists in the game.
She was also at the center of NSU’s four-run rally in the fourth that blew the game open and gave Rhoden even more breathing room. Her single put the first two of the inning aboard and she scored the second of her two runs on the day on a DuBois hit to left after Bailie Ragsdale raced home on a Laney Roos double two batters prior.
Kat Marshall added to the 5-0 lead with her second two-run hit of the day, splitting the gap in right center with two outs giving NSU the comfortable 7-0 lead through five and a half innings.
The only blemish for Rhoden came in the bottom of the inning on two doubles, one off the glove of Maggie Black at third, that put runners at second and third. A sacrifice fly brought in HBU’s only run but Rhoden induced a ground ball to second for the final out to limit any more damage.
She retired seven of the final eight batters she faced, ending the game on another soft pop up to Williams at second.
“Coach Lexi (Smith) tells us to throw a heavy ball, just keep it low in the zone and throw through your spins,” Rhoden said. “Just letting the spin make the ball drop more and force them to miss hit. I just focused in on that and putting what we’re practicing in our bullpens into the games.”
PHOTO: Evelyn Winger