The Southland Conference schedule tables have turned for the Northwestern State baseball team.
When the Demons open their three-game series against Houston Baptist at 6:30 p.m. Friday, it marks the start of three of four weekends at home to close conference play. In addition to the series opener, the three-game set features a 2 p.m. Saturday matchup and a 1 p.m. Sunday series finale.
The Demons (17-19, 6-6) enter the home-heavy back end of the conference schedule as one of three teams at .500 in league play, one game behind the league-leading trifecta of Nicholls, Southeastern and Houston Baptist (14-24, 7-5). NSU has played just three conference games at home, sweeping Texas A&M-Corpus Christi from April 1-3.
“It’s good to be home,” sixth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “It’s good to have three games where we know the park, can sleep in our own beds and our routine’s better. I’m excited. The boys are excited to be back in front of our fans.”
With nine of their final 12 conference games at home, the Demons have treaded enough water to keep them in the hunt to host one of the two four-team pods that make up the first weekend of the Southland Conference Tournament.
Those games are five weeks away. As such, the Demons are focused on the much closer future.
“If you look at it, we’re all kind of jumbled up in there,” Barbier said. “It’s important for us to be consistent. This weekend will be a good challenge for us to play well and see if we can get some consistency playing well a few games in a row.”
The Huskies come into the weekend outpacing the preseason predictions that surrounded them in former Major League All-Star and World Series champion Lance Berkman’s first year as head coach.
Projected to finish in a tie for last place, the Huskies instead finished the first half of Southland play with road series wins at McNeese and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Much like the Demons’ recently concluded road trip, Houston Baptist is in the midst of a two-weekend run of road conference series.
The Huskies have won three of their past four games following an 18-3 loss at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on April 15. Twice in the first four weeks of conference play, Houston Baptist has rallied from an opening-game loss to win a series.
“If you watch them, which we have most of the day (Thursday), they’ve improved,” Barbier said. “It’s what we always talk about, getting better as the season goes on. The three starters they’re going to run out at us this week, all three have done that. It’s not fortune. It’s better stuff and commanding the zone. They’ve got a couple of hitters in there who have really improved as the season has gone on.
“That happens a lot with a new coach. I did it a few years back. You’re trying to learn your team, and your team is learning you, seeing how you react in the dugout. You can’t simulate those things. I’m sure (Berkman) has an idea how to handle that with his pedigree.”
The Demons will send out their typical weekend rotation of left-hander Cal Carver (3-4, 4.62) and right-handers Johnathan Harmon (4-4, 3.15) and Drayton Brown (4-3, 3.61) while the Huskies counter with left-hander Austin Spinney (2-3, 6.55) and right-handers Jared Burch (1-2, 4.24) and Matthew Charles (2-0, 7.61).
All three NSU pitchers turned in quality starts (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs allowed) this past weekend at Nicholls and have combined for six such outings in their first 12 league starts.
“They’ve been consistent,” Barbier said. “We had the rough weekend (at UIW), but to only have one of those is impressive. We trust them. Trust is such an important part of our game, especially on the bump. It can get lonely out there sometimes. We have trust in those guys that we will match up every weekend against whoever they throw. We trust we’re going to throw strikes and land breaking balls and have good stuff. They’ve done that.”
Free streaming of all three games are available on www.NSUDemons.com.
Friday: Houston Baptist LHP Austin Spinney (2-3, 6.55) at Northwestern State LHP Cal Carver (3-4, 4.62)
Saturday: Houston Baptist RHP Jared Burch (1-2, 4.24) at Northwestern State RHP Johnathan Harmon (4-4, 3.15)
Sunday: Houston Baptist RHP Matthew Charles (2-0, 7.61) at Northwestern State RHP Drayton Brown (4-3, 3.61)
PHOTO: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services