A big swing from Jeffrey Elkins started Sunday afternoon off on the right foot for the Northwestern State baseball team while another from Austin Kirkpatrick bookended the Demons’ offensive output.
Sandwiched between the blasts were seven dominant innings from right-hander Drayton Brown as the Demons salvaged game three of a Southland Conference series against Southeastern, downing the Lions 5-2 at Brown-Stroud Field.
“From the get-go, it was aggressive,” sixth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said of Brown’s outing. “It was with intent. It was pounding the strike zone. He wasn’t going to let us lose that game today. That’s what you need. We have starters who have done that for us for a lot of this season. Then Jeff’s big swing let everyone settle into the game.”
Elkins’ 20th career home run – a two-out, three-run blast to right-center – came after Brown (5-4) wiggled out of a two-on, two-out jam in the first inning.
Connecting on a first-pitch home run for the fourth time in his Demon career, Elkins gave Brown all the run support he needed, allowing the Demons (21-22, 9-9) to avoid the sweep and move back to .500 in league play.
It also allowed Brown to settle in quickly and handcuff the Lions (19-25, 9-9) in the longest scoreless outing for a Demon pitcher this season.
“When those guys are able to help me out with run support, it’s amazing and we can do a lot of good stuff,” Brown said. “I’m proud of those guys. When Jeff gave us that run support, I just wanted to fight for those guys and get us a win.”
The Demons added a second-inning run off SLU starter Andrew Landry (2-5) on Daunte Stuart’s sacrifice fly before SLU reliever Hunter O’Toole, Daniel Dugas and Hayden Robb matched Brown zero for zero through seven innings.
Brown held Southeastern hitless for 3 1-3 innings before Preston Faulkner’s fourth-inning double. A sophomore from Nacogdoches, Texas, Brown allowed only one other hit – a sixth-inning Rhett Rosevear double – in his seven scoreless innings.
Brown struck out five SLU hitters in the first two innings, collecting his 100th career punchout as part of striking out the side in the second.
He recorded arguably his two biggest outs in the sixth after Rosevear doubled and Tyler Finke was hit by a pitch. Brown followed a mound visit from volunteer assistant coach Danny Hlad by retiring Faulkner, the Southland Conference’s home run leader, on a first-pitch fly ball to center and Shea Thomas on a fielder’s choice to maintain the shutout.
“He was filling up the zone really well, nipping the corners and giving me good pitches to bring back over the plate,” said Kirkpatrick, who was paired with Brown for the first time as a starter. “He just stayed dialed in. He got a little tired toward the end, but he dug deep and emptied the tank.”
Southeastern’s penchant for late-inning rallies emerged in the eighth as Faulkner grounded a two-run single to left to slice the Demons’ lead in half before Gus Collins escaped further damage.
Kirkpatrick, who started his second game of the season behind the plate, proved his flair for the dramatic in the bottom of the eighth, taking Hayden Robb’s 3-1 fastball into the right-field bullpen for his first career home run, his first hit of the season and a pivotal insurance run.
“They had my number earlier in the game,” Kirkpatrick said. “I made my mind up I was going to look for a fastball, and I got it and was able to get it out of the park. I really didn’t expect it to happen, but I’m glad it did.”
Collins snuffed out a two-out SLU rally in the ninth, getting Evan Keller to hit into a game-ending fielder’s choice to snap NSU’s three-game home losing streak.
“Kirk’s been sitting over there for a while watching other guys, helping other guys who have been catching in front of him,” Barbier said. “He took advantage of the opportunity he got today. It was good to see him get that big swing and settle down. It’s no secret the bullpen has struggled lately, so extending that lead to three runs let the dugout settle in and gave Gus confidence to go finish it.”
The Demons return to action Wednesday when they host Louisiana Tech. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Brown-Stroud Field.
Northwestern State 5, Southeastern 2
SLU 000 000 020 – 2 5 1
NSU 310 000 01x – 5 7 0
W – Drayton Brown (5-4). L – Andrew Landry (2-5). 2B – SLU, Rhett Rosevear, Preston Faulkner. NSU, Jacob Farrell. HR – NSU, Jeffrey Elkins (9), Austin Kirkpatrick (1). Highlights: SLU, Faulkner 2-3, 2B, 2 RBIs. NSU, Gray Rowlett 2-4.
Records: Southeastern 19-25, 9-9; Northwestern State 21-22, 9-9.
PHOTO: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services