Harmon, two-out hits lift Demons past Houston Baptist

At least twice down the stretch Saturday afternoon, Northwestern State baseball coach Bobby Barbier thought about making a pitching change.

Johnathan Harmon, the man on the mound, had other plans.

Harmon, a junior right-hander, made his coach look smart, tossing his second complete game of the season, setting the tone for a 4-2 Demon win against Houston Baptist in Southland Conference action at Brown-Stroud Field.

“The difference in two years,” Barbier said. “Last year, around the sixth inning, he lost that gear. This year, he’s got it. He’s able to fight through the sixth and seventh innings to where the adrenaline can carry him to the end. I never sent a guy out with that many pitches in the ninth. We’re usually really conservative with that, but he wanted it pretty badly.”

Harmon (5-4) was at 110 pitches through eight innings and left the mound with a one-run lead after the top of the eighth.

By the time Harmon returned to the bump, the lead had doubled, courtesy of another late-game RBI by Jake Haze, whose second double of the game chased home Jacob Farrell, who had reached on a fielder’s choice as a pinch hitter.

“I begged him to go back out there,” said Harmon, whose previous complete game came March 26 at New Orleans. “I told him, ‘If someone gets on, you can come take me out.’ I really wanted to the ball and to go win for our team.”

Reed Chumley did reach against Harmon, singling with two outs after Harmon struck out the first two batters of the HBU ninth. Fittingly, Harmon covered first base and took the flip from Gray Rowlett to retire Braden Sanford for the final out of the game and clinch the series for the Demons (19-19, 8-6), who have won eight straight at home. Harmon finished with a career-high 129 pitches.

Harmon’s consistency allowed Northwestern State the time it needed to solve Houston Baptist right-hander Jared Burch (1-3), who danced in and out of trouble for much of his 5 2-3 innings.

After the Huskies (14-26, 7-7) scored single runs in the third and fourth innings, Burch gave up an RBI groundout to Larson Fontenot to get the Demons on the board in the fourth.

Two innings later – following an interesting round of base running by his teammates – Fontenot delivered the biggest hit of the series for Northwestern State.

Daunte Stuart led off the sixth with an opposite-field double to the right-field corner that saw Stuart reach second after tumbling over the first-base bag. Bo Willis’ check-swing grounder moved Stuart to third ahead of a walk to Jeffrey Elkins, who stole second base.

Fontenot followed with a solid single to center to score both Stuart and Elkins as Elkins slid home under catcher Kevin Ortiz’ tag. Fontenot’s two-run single marked the first multi-run inning for either team in the series.

“I knew I had to get the job done, especially in my first at-bat,” Fontenot said. “I knew if I put the ball in play on the first one, I’d get the run in. The second at-bat, if I got the hit, it would be a different game.”

Armed with his first lead of the game, Harmon worked around a pair of two-out walks to strike out Ortiz for the final out of the seventh, letting out a loud scream to punctuate the moment.

A 1-2-3 eighth inning followed before Harmon closed out the Huskies in the eighth, securing Northwestern State’s eighth straight win at home and making sure the Demons would be assured a share of first place in the jumbled Southland Conference race after 14 games.

Harmon’s two ninth-inning strikeouts gave him eight on the day, a new career high, as he completed a five-hitter.

“Game-changing defense, like we talked about,” Barbier said. “It’s not going to be a hitter’s day this weekend. We’ve got 15 mile per hour winds blowing straight in. It’s going to be tough to hit balls in the gap, so you need to do the little things right. We got two big-time, two-out hits. Good base running by Jeff (Elkins) to score on Larson’s single. It was a good all-around win.”

The series concludes at 1 p.m. Sunday with a matchup of right-handers. Drayton Brown (4-3, 3.61) takes the ball for Northwestern State against Houston Baptist’s Matthew Charles (2-0, 7.61).

Northwestern State 4, Houston Baptist 2
HBU 001 100 000 – 2 5 1
NSU 000 102 01x – 4 6 0

W – Johnathan Harmon (5-4). L – Jared Burch (1-3). 2B – NSU, Daunte Stuart, Jeffrey Elkins, Jake Haze 2. Highlights: NSU, Stuart 2-3, 2B; Haze 2-4, 2 2Bs, RBI.
Records: Houston Baptist 14-26, 7-7; Northwestern State 19-19, 8-6.

PHOTO: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services