Demons set to open SLC Tournament against Nicholls

LAKE CHARLES – A new look for the Southland Conference Baseball Tournament awaits Northwestern State on Thursday.

The venue, however, will be familiar one.

For the second time in less than two weeks, the Demons travel to Joe Miller Ballpark on McNeese’s campus to start bracket play in the two-week conference tournament. The fifth-seeded Demons face No. 4 seed Nicholls in the opening game of the Lake Charles bracket of the tournament at 1 p.m.

The winners of the four-team brackets will meet May 26-28 at the home of the best remaining seed to determine the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Reegionals.

Thursday’s game can be seen on ESPN+ while free streaming audio is available through and the Northwestern State Athletics Mobile App, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices.

Northwestern State (25-27, 12-12 Southland) won two of three games at McNeese from May 6-8, one of two Southland road series wins for the Demons.

“It’s good for us, being familiar with the field,” sixth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “Sometimes, when you go to a place you’ve seen, you’re comfortable. You’ve seen how the ball flies. Your pitchers, those turf mounds can be tough. They’ve been on them. I think (playing there) can be an advantage for us.”

Perhaps no group is looking forward to a return trip to Lake Charles more than the Demon offense.

Northwestern State homered seven times in three games against the Cowboys, part of a season in which the Demons have already tied their high-water mark for home runs in the Barbier era with 50. Beginning with their May 6 win against the Cowboys, the Demons hit 15 home runs in their final eight regular-season games, including two Tuesday night at LSU.

“It flies there,” senior center fielder Larson Fontenot said of Joe Miller Ballpark. “We’ll go there having confidence and let it fly. It’s going to be fun, really fun.”

The Demons will send left-hander Cal Carver (4-4, 4.31) to the mound in a tournament opener for the second straight season.

Carver, a second-team All-Southland Conference selection, took a no-decision in the 2021 tournament opener, working 6 2-3 innings of one-run ball at Southeastern a year ago. He earned a win on May 6 as the Demons defeated McNeese, 16-12, allowed four earned runs in seven-plus innings.

“It definitely keeps our heads high and our momentum up, knowing we went down there a week or two ago and took two of three,” he said. “If we want to get to the championship, we’re probably going to have to go through the host team again.”

McNeese, the bracket host and No. 1 seed, faces No. 8 seed Incarnate Word in Thursday’s 6 p.m. game with the winners meeting at 6 p.m. Friday following a 1 p.m. elimination game.

As the Demons prepare to face a Nicholls (25-23, 12-12) team that took the April 14-16 series two games to one, there are two things Barbier is looking for as Northwestern State attempts to replicate its 2018 tournament run.

“It’s big to be healthy going in,” Barbier said. “We had a couple of pitchers who were down last week that look like they’re going to be OK. We just have to play fearless baseball. It will be a good weekend to hit, like it was a couple of weeks ago.

“We have to go down there and play like we’re capable of playing. Any of these eight teams can come out with a championship. We had six teams in contention for the league title the last weekend of the season. The team that plays most freely and easy and gets after it for a weekend gives themselves an opportunity to move forward.”

Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services