Demons’ hot start not enough to corral Colonels in tournament

LAKE CHARLES – The Northwestern State baseball team picked up where it left off in its most recent visit to Joe Miller Ballpark on Thursday.

The Demons broke quickly in their first-round Southland Conference Baseball Tournament game against No. 4 seed Nicholls but were unable to sustain that success against the Colonels bullpen.

That relief work allowed Nicholls to claw back from a trio of early deficits and edge fifth-seeded Northwestern State, 7-6, and send the Demons to Friday’s 1 p.m. elimination game against the loser of Thursday’s matchup between No. 1 seed McNeese and eighth-seeded Incarnate Word.

“When their reliever (Chase Gearing) came in, he settled the game down for them,” sixth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “We’ve got to be able to adjust our at-bats. We had a really good game plan for the starter (Devin Desandro), which we executed well. We have to do a better job of when they bring somebody else in to extend the lead with the wind blowing out.”

The Demons (25-28) took advantage of a blustery day, connecting on a two-run home run in each of the first two innings against Desandro, who tossed six shutout innings against Northwestern State in an 8-2 Nicholls win on April 14 in Thibodaux.

Jeffrey Elkins connected on his 13th home run of the season in the opening inning, moving him into a tie for sixth on NSU’s single-season home run list and into an eighth-place tie in career home runs with his 24th.

The Colonels (26-23) had an answer for Elkins’ homer as they took advantage of some soft contact in the first inning against Demon left-hander Cal Carver (4-5), scoring runs on a groundout and an infield single.

The 2-all tie was short-lived as Austin Kirkpatrick drilled a two-run home run off Desandro in the second inning to regain the lead for Northwestern State and allow Carver to settle in.

Carver, a second-team All-Southland Conference selection, retired nine straight from the first through fourth innings before the Colonels touched him for three runs in the fifth.

That three-run inning came on the heels of an extended top of the fifth that saw Nicholls coach Mike Silva ejected from the game after a controversial walk drawn by Elkins.

After Daunte Stuart and Gabe Colaianni drew back-to-back, one-out walks off Desandro, Nicholls called on Gearing in relief. The right-hander fell behind 2-0 on Elkins and delivered a 2-1 pitch near the outside corner that was called a strike. One pitch later, Elkins was awarded first base after some confusion regarding the count, loading the bases with one out.

The Demons managed only a run in the top of the fifth – on Larson Fontenot’s bases-loaded hit by pitch – before Nicholls answered with Xane Washington’s two-run home run and a bases-loaded hit by pitch to tie the game.

Gearing kept the Demons at bay as Nicholls took the lead on a run-scoring double play in the sixth and a two-out RBI triple by shortstop Parker Coddou in the seventh.

Coddou’s hit came after Austin Cain walked on a full-count pitch with two outs and nobody aboard and proved to be a key insurance run as Kirkpatrick connected for his second home run of the game – a high-arcing shot inside the left-field foul pole – in the eighth for the only run Gearing allowed in his 4 2-3 innings of relief.

“We have to understand quicker what (Gearing) is trying to do,” Barbier said. “Early, he was locating that ball away pretty good, and we never made an adjustment. (Kirkpatrick) put a couple of good swings on balls. Today was a day where if you hit the ball hard in the air, it was going to do something good.”

The Demons made one final push against Gearing as Colaianni doubled into the right-field corner with two outs and Elkins walked to put the go-ahead run on base before Coddou ranged far to his left to gobble up Bo Willis ground ball and throw him out to seal Nicholls’ win.

Nicholls 7, Northwestern State 6
NSU 220 010 010 – 6 9 0
Nicholls 200 031 10x – 7 11 0

W – Chase Gearing (5-3). L – Cal Carver (4-5). 2B – NSU, Gabe Colaianni. NICH, Dane Simon, Xane Washington. 3B – NICH, Parker Coddou. HR – NSU, Austin Kirkpatrick 2 (4), Jeffrey Elkins (13). Nicholls, Washington (9). Highlights: NSU, Kirkpatrick 2-4, 2 HRs, 3 RBIs. NICH, Simon 3-5, 2B; Washington 3-5, 2B, HR, 2 RBIs.
Records: Northwestern State 25-28, Nicholls 26-23.

Photo: Leighton Chamblee/McNeese Athletics