HAMMOND – If the Southland Conference Tournament is the main course, Northwestern State is getting an appetizer this weekend in its regular-season finale.
The Lady Demons (28-17, 10-5) return to action following a 12-day layoff between games to take on 2022 tournament host Southeastern (34-14, 11-4) in a three-game series with plenty of implications attached to it.
The series begins with Friday’s doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. and concludes with Saturday’s season finale at 12 p.m. Both Friday games will air on ESPN+ and live stats also available at http://www.nsudemons.com.
For the second straight year the battle for the Cypress Trophy will determine the seeds for both NSU and SLU going into the tournament. A year ago, the Lady Demons took two of three from the Lady Lions in Natchitoches to take the four spot away from their rival. This season the Lady Demons look for a repeat performance to earn the two seed in next week’s tournament.
“It’s going to be a tough series at the same place we’re playing the tournament,” head coach Donald Pickett said. “No matter what happens it’s going to put us in a competitive place playing three games against a quality team right before the start of the tournament. I believe it’s going to prepare us for next week one way or the other.”
Following their sweep of UIW two weeks ago, the Lady Demons have stayed sharp with multiple scrimmages against each other while taking some time to rest for the final week of the season and grind of the conference tournament.
NSU continues to boast the top pitching staff in the conference with the top strikeout pitcher, Sage Hoover (156) and Bronte Rhoden who as the SLC’s lowest ERA at a miniscule 0.53. Hoover, Rhoden and Kenzie Seely all have opponent batting averages in league games below .180 this season.
Of the four pitchers in the conference with a sub-200 opponent batting average, three of them wear Purple and White.
Their prowess in the circle and ability to keep people off base will be a key to the series against a Southeastern team that likes to play “small ball” and are aggressive on the base paths with nearly every opportunity.
“We have to make the plays that we’re supposed to make and not give them extra outs,” Pickett said. “They can turn a single into a double quick and cause some havoc on the bases. We have to go in, play our game, keep it slow and make sure we’re where we’re supposed to be and making plays we’re supposed to make.”
Shortstop Keely DuBois stands to play a pivotal role in the outcome of the series, not only on defense fielding ground balls and covering second on potential steals, but at the plate as NSU’s top RBI hitter this season.
She is in the top five in the conference in league games and overall in RBIs this season and got a boost of confidence following the team’s home sweep on senior weekend two weeks ago.
“For me I felt like I was struggling a little bit before we got the sweep,” she said. “So, to have that little bit of extra time gave me and us confidence to say we’re back in this and in a good spot where we need to be before going into the tournament.”
DuBois has 37 RBIs this season and 14 during conference play to go along with her .340 average and .900 OPS.
A pair of wins in the series would secure at least the three seed in the conference tournament for the Lady Demons and return the Cypress Trophy to Natchitoches, where it has lived since its inception in 2019.
Photo: Gary Hardamon