During each of the first three years of Bobby Barbier’s tenure as the Northwestern State baseball coach, his Demons squared off with Chris Curry’s Little Rock Trojans.
The series was somewhat fitting as Little Rock’s decision to hire Curry, then NSU’s pitching coach, as its head coach following the 2014 season presented an opportunity for Barbier to return to his alma mater.
Those paths cross again this weekend as Curry’s Trojans (9-5) return to Brown-Stroud Field for the first time since 2019 to face Barbier’s Demons (10-6) in a three-game, non-conference series. First pitch in the series is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday with a 2 p.m. Saturday game and a 1 p.m. Sunday matinee finale on tap. All three games will air on ESPN+.
“I took Chris’ spot when I came to be the pitching coach for (former NSU head coach) Lane (Burroughs),” Barbier said. “He’s done a great job up there. He’s figured out what wins up there. We play in two completely different types of ballparks in terms of size and things like that. We play a little different type of baseball. Good to see him back in town. I know he made a lot of good friends here that he’s looking forward to seeing again.”
The Demons and Trojans have not met since NSU took two of three games from Little Rock in Natchitoches from March 1-3, 2019. Since Barbier took over the NSU program, the Demons are 5-3 against Little Rock and have won each of the two three-game series played between the teams.
Northwestern State won the first two games of a three-game set at Gary Hogan Field in 2018.
This weekend’s series is at a place where the Demons have enjoyed early-season success – Brown-Stroud Field where NSU has won seven of its first nine games this season.
“(The crowd support) has been fantastic all year and for the previous few years,” Barbier said. “The ESPN+ production has been great. I have heard a lot of good things from people who have watched it. Hopefully, people keep coming out, and we’ll get some new faces who have been watching on TV. I think we’re putting together a pretty good product.”
The Demons’ current five-game win streak has been headlined by a pitching staff have has allowed eight runs in that span and spun a pair of shutouts, including Cal Carver’s three-hit, complete-game shutout of Alabama A&M on March 10.
Carver (2-1, 0.70) will start Friday’s game followed by right-handers Alex Makarewich (2-0, 3.27) and Drayton Brown (1-2, 5.16) on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The Demons’ weekend rotation has combined for an 89-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the season. Against Alabama A&M, the group struck out 33 and walked one.
“If you throw the ball in the strike zone consistently and you have a secondary pitch, you’re going to have success over a long run,” Barbier said. “We’ve seen that pretty much all season. When you do that, you give your team a chance to win. There are a lot of other things you have to do well in order to in, but that gives us a chance. Then you sprinkle a few dominant outings in there and you don’t have to do as much on the other side of it. Those guys have come along. They’re confident right now.”
The NSU offense’s confidence has grown as well, especially at home.
The Demons have batted .270 in their nine home games and have hit 11 of their 13 home runs at Brown-Stroud Field. NSU averages better than seven runs per game in its home park, compared to less than four runs per game in its seven road or neutral-site games.
Two of the Demons’ home-based home runs have come from fifth-year junior Jacob Farrell, who has become an everyday player for the first time in his NSU career. Farrell has started 13 of NSU’s 16 games and already has surpassed his career totals in at-bats and hits while driving in the first eight runs of his NSU career. An outfielder from Cypress, Texas, Farrell leads NSU with five stolen bases and is one of three Demons who have drawn eight walks this season.
“He’s a great man,” Barbier said of Farrell. “He’s stuck it out. In a world of transferring for something greener, he stuck it out. He battled through it and gets to be an everyday player. It’s a credit to his hard work and his ability to keep working while he’s waiting. I’m very proud that he’s having some success.”
Friday: Little Rock RHP Hoss Brewer (1-0, 5.06) vs. Northwestern State LHP Cal Carver (2-1, 0.70)
Saturday: Little Rock RHP Jackson Wells (2-0. 0.42) vs. Northwestern State RHP Alex Makarewich (2-0, 3.27)
Sunday: Little Rock RHP Preston Davis (1-1, 4.50) vs. Northwestern State RHP Drayton Brown (1-2, 5.16)