Sixth-year Northwestern State head baseball coach Bobby Barbier has seen the Southland Conference from various vantage points in his coaching and Demon playing career.
The 2022 season may have provided Barbier with the most balanced, equitable competition he has seen in the league in either of his roles.
“No, not really,” Barbier said of whether he remembered a year as competitive as 2022, which has five teams within one game of the conference lead with nine to play. “Last year was pretty tight at the end. We went into that last weekend with us and five other teams who were able to win it. Obviously, we didn’t get to play that weekend (because of weather). Those were four-game sets as well, so you had an extra game there to spread it out.”
The current Demons (20-20, 8-7) are one of five teams within a game of first place in Southland play with nine conference games remaining. NSU is tied with New Orleans and Houston Baptist, a game behind conference co-leaders McNeese and Nicholls, which are both 9-6 in the league.
The Demons will host Southeastern, which sits a game behind NSU, New Orleans and Houston Baptist, in a three-game series this weekend, starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Brown-Stroud Field. The series also includes a 2 p.m. Saturday start and a 1 p.m. Sunday matchup. Free streaming audio and subscription video is available for all three games on http://www.NSUDemons.com and through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices.
McNeese moved into a first-place tie by sweeping Southeastern (17-24, 7-8) this past weekend.
That sweep halted the Lions’ momentum after SLU had won seven of its previous nine conference games, moving into a three-way tie for the conference lead ahead of this past weekend’s series.
“What everybody sees is the wins and losses,” Barbier said. “(SLU) had the Friday and Saturday games in hand. They were there to be won, and they could have easily been coming in here winners of two of three games. They got walked off a couple of times with home runs. It’s easy to look at the wins and losses, but it’s important to look at how they’re playing.
“They are playing much better than they played earlier in the season. Look at their two weekends before (taking two of three from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and sweeping New Orleans). (Coach) Matt (Riser) always has his team ready to play.”
Being ready to play and continuing to build consistency are two themes Barbier has harped on to his team as the 2022 season winds to a close. Following this weekend’s series, the Demons will be down to single digits in regular-season games remaining.
“What an opportunity we have, playing six of the final nine (Southland) games at home,” Barbier said. “We paid for it earlier with nine of our first 12 on the road. It comes down to our guys playing good baseball, blocking out those things and outside influences – anything that can take us away from playing good baseball (Friday) night or having a good practice (Thursday).”
For the 11th straight three-game series to start the season, the Demons will send out the starting rotation of left-hander Cal Carver (3-4, 4.45) and right-handers Johnathan Harmon (5-4, 2.98) and Drayton Brown (4-4, 3.81).
All three Demon starters worked at least six innings in a series win against Houston Baptist this past weekend, marking the third straight weekend NSU’s rotation has accomplished the feat. Harmon spun his second complete game of the season against Houston Baptist.
That group will try to build off another strong end to a midweek game as the NSU bullpen capped Tuesday’s win with four straight scoreless innings at Grambling. It was the second straight midweek game in which the Demons did not surrender a run in the final four innings of a game.
“Take (Cam) Sibley and his defense the other day,” Barbier said. “Things like that have been consistent most of the season. Our starting pitching has been consistent most of the year. We’d like to add a few more things to that list. At-bats, one through nine, regardless of who’s on the mound, really taking something from that pitcher and making him work. I’d like to see that be a little more consistent. We still have time to get that consistency as we move toward postseason play.”
Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services