HOUSTON – The last time the Northwestern State baseball team visiting Husky Field in southwest Houston, Gabe Colaianni and Jacob Farrell combined for four at-bats in a four-game set between NSU and then-named Houston Baptist.
Almost two years to the day later, Colaianni and Farrell return to their home area as integral parts of the Demon lineup, each having battled his way into the lineup. Together, the juniors will lead Northwestern State into Friday’s 2 p.m. Southland Conference series opener at Houston Christian. The three-game set also includes a 1 p.m. Saturday start and a 2 p.m. Sunday series finale.
Free streaming audio of all three games will be available on www.NSUDemons.com or through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices. The final two games of the series will be broadcast on ESPN+.
For Farrell, a fifth-year junior, this weekend’s return close to his hometown of Cypress comes with a little more emotion.
“My sister is due to give birth Monday, so I’m hoping the baby comes a little early,” he said. “It would make it a very special weekend. It will be very interesting to see what happens.
“Interesting” is an apt word to describe Farrell’s time with the Demons (18-13, 4-2). Farrell arrived in the fall of 2018 and redshirted the 2019 season before the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled the 2020 season.
Farrell appeared in 23 games, starting three, in 2021. He did not get an at-bat in the 2021 series against HCU (6-22, 3-3) in Houston. He appeared on his way to more playing time in 2022 before a preseason injury changed those plans.
A May 2022 business administration with a concentration in finance, Farrell has enjoyed a breakout 2023 season, setting career highs in games played (28), at-bats (82), runs (17), hits (21), doubles (4), home runs (2) and RBIs (10). He shares the team lead in stolen bases (7) with longtime teammate and roommate Jeffrey Elkins.
“He’s a great man,” seventh-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “He’s stuck it out. In the world of transferring for something greener, he stuck it out. He battled through. Now he 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 of his success.”
While Farrell had to wait until this season to crack the lineup, his early-season injury in 2022 may have helped open the door for Colaianni, who started the final 31 games of the 2022 season in right field and made 46 starts overall a season ago.
Much like Farrell, Colaianni had to work his way into the NSU lineup after a less-than-ordinary start to his collegiate career.
Colaianni made his Northwestern State debut in a March 10, 2020, win at Grambling. Colaianni went 1-for-3 that game, tripling on the first pitch he saw as a collegiate hitter.
Two days later, instead of jumping on a bus to head south for the Southland Conference season opener at New Orleans, Colaianni and the rest of NSU’s spring sports student-athletes were left in limbo as the first semblance of the COVID-19 pandemic hit college sports. It took nearly two months, but Colaianni and the rest of the NCAA student-athletes whose seasons were affected learned the spring 2020 seasons would not count against their eligibility clocks.
Three years later, Colaianni is riding perhaps the hottest run of his career, homering three times and driving in 10 runs in the Demons’ past four games. His 13th-inning, game-tying triple against Louisiana Tech on April 4 was the seventh three-bagger of his NSU career, tying him for 10th on the school’s all-time list.
“(My career) has taught me a lot of life lessons,” said Colaianni, who grew up in Missouri City, Texas, less than 10 miles from the HCU campus. “I’m thankful for everything. It’s all a part of baseball. You’re going to have your ups and downs. Staying level-headed and being positive day in and day out, that’s what it’s all about.”
Neither Farrell nor Colaianni needed to look very far at the field or away from it for support when things weren’t on a positive trajectory.
The pair has been roommates for two years, allowing them a chance to both commiserate and celebrate.
“It’s a conversation we’ve had a lot,” Farrell said. “We’ve been able to help each other when things are going good and when things are going bad. You try to stay even-keeled. Don’t get too high or too low, just stay balanced through a long season.”
That balance will be tested on an emotional weekend for both players, who could make their final collegiate appearances in or near their home area.
“It’s always nice coming back home,” said Colaianni, who leads NSU with 23 RBIs and shares the team lead with five home runs. “It means a lot to me to paly close to where I’m from. It always holds a special place in your heart. Whether it’s a good game or a bad game, I’m just thankful I’m out there and able to play. When you can have your family and friends come watch you, that’s what it’s all about.”
Friday: Northwestern State LHP Cal Carver (4-2, 3.91) at HCU RHP Baylor Baumann (0-3, 8.14)
Saturday: Northwestern State RHP Drayton Brown (2-4, 4.81) at HCU RHP Walker Zander (1-3, 6.10)
Sunday: Northwestern State RHP Alex Makarewich (2-3, 6.03) at HCU Will Ripoll (0-1, 4.50)