Northwestern State is looking to carry its good times from a five-win weekend in the Mardi Gras Mambo into its Ash Wednesday home opener.
The Lady Demons (6-3) open the home portion of the 2023 schedule on Wednesday afternoon at 5 p.m. as they host Grambling from Lady Demon Diamond. The game can be seen on ESPN+ and tickets are available by visiting www.nsutickets.com.
Grambling (5-5) split its four-game Mardi Gras Tournament weekend in Baton Rouge, closing the weekend with a 6-0 shutout against Alabama State on Sunday like the Demons did against Toledo.
There was little for head coach Donald Pickett to be upset about following his teams quality response at the Mambo from the 1-3 opening weekend at the Bearkat Classic.
NSU got exceptional pitching performances in all five games, picking up three shutouts and allowing just five runs in the other two games combined. Kenzie Seely struck out a career-high 12 batters in her win against St. Thomas, Ryleigh Denton allowed just three hits in a shutout of Manhattan, Bronte Rhoden allowed just one earned run against Gardner-Webb and Maggie Darr sat down 19 with two shutouts tossing a near perfect game against Toldeo on her way to Southland Conference Pitcher of the Week honors.
The quality in the circle was evident even from the first weekend, the difference between the four games in Huntsville, Texas and the five in Youngsville, La., was the work at the plate.
“I thought our at bats were tremendously better as the weekend went on,” Pickett said. “We got stronger and better at bats and had the right approach at the plate and carried it out. I really like what I saw on Saturday night and Sunday from that perspective, but we can’t settle. We have to continue to get better and more consistent with our at bats.”
NSU got contributions up and down the lineup all weekend with the familiar suspects of Laney Roos, Keely Dubois and Kat Marshall cashing in on their opportunities more often than not.
Roos and Dubois each had seven hits, including three doubles and seven RBI, Marshall collected five hits with a critical 3-run home run against Gardner-Webb and Nani Winger had a number of good at bats with two doubles and three walks, second most on the weekend behind Marshall’s five.
Vivica Hernandez got her first hit and RBIs of her career with a 2-run knock in the run-rule win over Florida A&M and Bailie Ragsdale reached base seven times in 11 plate appearances on the weekend setting the table for the top of the lineup.
NSU applied and maintained pressure on the opposing team’s pitchers and defense all weekend, something it wants to continue to build upon as the season progresses.
The one area that the Demons will look for more refinement is on the defensive side. NSU had a total of seven errors on the weekend, fortunately many did not hurt the team with extra runs thanks to the stellar arms in the circle and their ability to work through the jams, but it is something Pickett wants to see improvement in as early as Wednesday’s game against the Lady Tigers.
“We need to keep putting the time in on defense in practice if we can get around this weather stuff at the beginning of the year and get those reps in to make sure we’re making those plays that I know we can make,” he said. “That’s going to be a big deal for us as we move into conference play. We need to be more consistent there as well and not give up some runs or extend innings. We’ve let some teams stay in games with us because we’ve not made those routine plays.”
The Lady Demons have shuffled the defensive lineup slightly from a season ago through the early part of the season with Tristin Court seeing time at short which moved Dubois to third and Ragsdale moving from the outfield to second base.
Only four of the eight position spots on the field this season have had the same starter in all nine games this year – Marshall at first, Winger in center, Roos in right and Ashlyn Walker behind the plate.
More time and more reps in those spots will lead to more comfortability and more consistency for the NSU defense.