NATCHITOCHES – More two-out damage by the Lamar bats pushed the Cardinals past Northwestern State on Sunday afternoon in the Southland Conference opening series finale.
Back-to-back run-scoring hits in the top of the second brought in three more two-out runs for Lamar (9-19, 2-1), their 11th in just over two games, giving it the 3-1 lead. The Lady Demons (12-9, 1-2) failed to produce the same results with runners on the rest of the game ultimately falling 6-1 in the rubber game.
“We had a couple of opportunities early to build on that lead with runners in scoring position and just couldn’t get that hit,” head coach Donald Pickett said. “That was the difference in the game, they got those hits, and we did nothing to be able to produce any runs when we had the chance. I think they gained some confidence as we went and got that big swing late to bust it open.”
NSU scored in the bottom of the first for the second straight game to take an early lead. A throwing error by the third baseman extended the inning and put Makenzie Chaffin in scoring position. A base hit through the left side from Keely Dubois sent Chaffin screaming around third where a perfect slide to the back side of the plate allowed her to score as the throw came in and put the Demons on top 1-0.
A walk to Tristin Court loaded the bases, but a ground ball to short ended the inning with no more damage done.
Starting pitcher Ryleigh Denton alternated strikeouts and walks to the first four batters of the second, putting the eventual go-ahead runs on base after three straight lengthy at bats. A medium-paced ball up the middle from the nine-hole batter kicked off the glove of a diving Bailie Ragsdale pushing it wide of a charging Laney Roos that allowed both runners to score from first and second base.
Lamar’s best hitter, Sam Bean, who was held in check all weekend, singled home a run on the next pitch to give the Cardinals three quick runs and the lead.
“The margins in these conference games is razor thin every time,” Pickett said about the pivotal play. “But we didn’t get the pitching we wanted this weekend, and we didn’t get those timely hits we needed. When you get beat in two of the three phases of the game it’s going to be a long series and that’s what happened this weekend.”
The Demon had an immediate chance to tie the game in the bottom of the inning after a second error at third put runners at second and third with two outs. A pop-up to third on a 2-0 count however ended the inning and the last NSU threat until the sixth inning.
Cardinal starter Aaliyah Ruiz retired 10 straight batters beginning with the pop-up that ended the second, needing just 31 pitches to make her way all the way through the NSU order between the end of the second and the end of the fifth innings.
Denton was able to work around traffic after the second, not allowing any runs to score after three more hits against her. Bronte Rhoden entered the game in the fourth and cruised through three full innings to keep NSU in the game.
Kat Marshall started the sixth with a base hit down the line in left and after a Court hit through the left side, the Demons had the tying run on base with only one out. Once again though they would be stranded on the bases after a fly ball to center and a strikeout ended the inning.
The final blow from the Cardinal came on a Cameron Niedenthal three-run home run with one out in the seventh, the third of three straight hits in the inning that made it a 6-1 game.
It is the first time NSU lost a conference opening series since 2017 when they were swept by Lamar in Beaumont. It is the first time since 2009, Pickett’s first season, the Demons lost a conference-opening series at home.
NSU travels to Louisiana Tech on Tuesday night for a midweek tilt with the Lady Techsters before the Memphis Classic next weekend in Memphis, Tenn.
Photo: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services