THIBODAUX – There are simple ways to end a tough stretch of baseball, and then there is what the Northwestern State Demons did Saturday afternoon.
NSU snapped a six-game losing streak with one of its best offensive performances of conference play, using a nine-run sixth inning to power its way to a 10-7 win at Nicholls, salvaging the final game of the Southland Conference series.
“They competed hard,” sixth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “Everybody knows it hasn’t been going our way the last couple of weeks. This game will humble you if you don’t keep competing hard. You never know when you’ll have a chance to get one, and we had a chance to get this one. It was good to get it.”
The Demons (16-18, 6-6) followed a similar script to their series-finale victory at New Orleans on March 27. Like that game, Saturday’s matchup was even at 1 through five innings before the Northwestern State offense enjoyed a sixth-inning breakout.
Back-to-back singles by Gray Rowlett and Bryce Holmes put the Demons in position to shake off the funk of a seven-game road trip that ended with Saturday’s victory.
When Heckman’s throw on Jeffrey Elkins’ sacrifice bunt put Edgar Alvarez off first base, it loaded the bases for Larson Fontenot, who promptly snapped the tie with a two-run single through the right side to drive Heckman (1-3) from the game.
Cam Sibley promptly welcomed reliever Chase Gearing, who picked up a seven-out save in Friday’s series opener, with an RBI single and Jake Haze followed with an RBI sacrifice fly. The Colonels (19-14, 7-5) then began to play bullpen roulette, using five total pitchers to get through the inning.
Rowlett had the biggest swing of the inning, grounding a two-run double inside the third-base bag. Rowlett finished 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs while Bryce Holmes turned in a career-high, four-hit game as NSU pounded 17 hits – a conference season high and the second most in a game this season.
“We talked before the game about going out there, playing loose and having fun,” Rowlett said. “That was pretty much it. Everyone said, ‘Let’s have fun.’”
Right-hander Drayton Brown (4-3) was the beneficiary of the nine-run frame for the second time in four conference starts.
The sophomore delivered NSU’s third quality start of the weekend, allowing two runs (one earned) in six innings, scattering four hits and striking out four. Brown retired nine in a row from the third through fifth innings, picking up his first win since March 27.
Brown allowed his only earned run in the sixth after the Demons’ lengthy top of the innings that featured four mid-inning pitching changes.
“He was cruising pretty good,” Barbier said. “That first run, we gave it to them. He did a really nice job of commanding the zone, keeping them off-balance with his off-speed stuff. It was as good as he’s pitched all year at a time where we needed it. Sometimes you need somebody to stop it, and he stopped it today.”
Holmes and Rowlett were two of five Demons who had multi-hit efforts. Gabe Colaianni (3-for-4) and Fontenot (3-for-5) each had three-hit performances while Sibley added a two-hit game, going 2-for-5.
The Demons return to action Tuesday night when they host LSU-Alexandria. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Brown-Stroud Field.
Northwestern State 10, Nicholls 7
NSU 000 109 000 – 10 17 1
Nicholls 100 001 014 – 7 10 2
W – Drayton Brown (4-3). L – Nick Heckman (1-3). 2B – NSU, Gray Rowlett. NICH, Jayden Kay. HR – NICH, Edgar Alvarez (6). Highlights: NSU, Gabe Colaianni 3-4; Rowlett 3-4, 2B, 2 RBIs; Bryce Holmes 4-5, 2 RBIs; Larson Fontenot 3-5, 3 RBIs; Cam Sibley 2-5, RBI. NICH, Dane Simon 2-4; Kay 2-5, 2B, RBI.
Records: Northwestern State 16-18, 6-6; Nicholls 19-14, 7-5.