Knowing your opponent is key to success on the field.
As Northwestern State hosts Lamar for the Southland Conference opening series starting Friday, it welcomes some familiar faces with it, setting the stage for a competitive first series.
The Lady Demons (11-7) continue their seven-game home stand with the Cardinals (7-18) with Friday’s doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. from Lady Demon Diamond live on ESPN+.
In his 15 years at NSU, Donald Pickett has seen former assistants and players go on to make a career elsewhere in the sport of softball. Two of them make their return to Natchitoches in the opposing dugout this weekend.
Cardinal head coach Amy Hooks and assistant coach Tara McKenney bring their team and plenty of fond memories with them to Natchitoches to take on the NSU. Hooks was an assistant coach under Pickett and McKenney a three-time all-conference short stop from 2011-14.
“We still have a close relationship so it’s going to be fun to see them,” Pickett said. “Amy was here for six years and helped us win a couple of conference titles and Tara was a part of those teams. Both of them helped to rebuild this program and do a lot of things for NSU softball. It’s going to be good to see them and their families this weekend. Know it’s going to be competitive, and we have our work cut out for us.”
Hooks is now in her fifth season leading the Cardinal program and is making her first trip back to Natchitoches, after helping NSU to 93 wins with a .588 win percentage and two tournament titles (2013, 2014) in six seasons as an assistant.
McKenney was an NFCA All-Region player after her senior season for the Demons, totaling 139 hits in her final two seasons with a .377 batting average and scored 76 runs. She ranks third all-time in hits at NSU with 246.
Her offensive prowess has helped Lamar’s top hitter, Sam Bean, rank in the top five in conference in eight different offensive categories, including slugging, hits, doubles and home runs.
It will be strength against strength all weekend as Bean faces the conference’s second best pitching staff in terms of ERA (2.64) and opponent batting average (.233) and one of the top strikeout pitchers in the league in Maggie Darr.
“They looked sharp this past weekend,” Pickett said about his pitching staff. “They’ve been pretty consistent for us this season so far and we need them to have a big weekend coming up to keep us in games and give us a chance to win them. I’ve got a lot of confidence in the staff to go out there and do that. When our offense has struggled at times this year they’ve done a tremendous job of giving us chances to win.”
Darr threw a complete game shutout this past weekend and helped secure another after four perfect innings from Bronte Rhoden as NSU allowed just two runs in four games and held their opponents to two hits or less in three of those games.
“We’ve been able to play for a month now and see a lot of different styles of teams and play so I hope that means we’re ready for conference play,” Pickett said. “Excited to get it going and glad that we’re at home. Looking forward to seeing what this Southland season’s going to bring.”