Another weekend, another visit from the Southland Conference baseball leaders to Brown-Stroud Field.
Northwestern State wraps up its lone set of back-to-back home conference series this season by hosting Nicholls in a three-game series that begins with Friday’s 6:30 p.m. first pitch. The series also includes a 2 p.m. Saturday matchup and a 1 p.m. Sunday matinee finale. All three games will air on ESPN+.
“It’s good competition,” seventh-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “(Nicholls head coach) Mike (Silva) has done a really good job over there. They just beat LSU and are coming in off that big win. It will be a good challenge for us.”
The challenge of facing the league leaders for a second straight week is reflected in how the Colonels (23-16, 8-4) approach the game.
Nicholls enters this weekend’s series with the top batting average in the league in conference games at .314. A week ago, UIW came to Brown-Stroud Field as the league’s No. 2 team in overall batting average.
“Similar to UIW, they have a really complete lineup,” Barbier said. “They have right-handed hitters, left-handed hitters, older guys who have been there a while. They give good at-bats. It will be a nice challenge for our pitchers, and hopefully our offense can keep it going like we finished last weekend.”
Much like Nicholls, the Demons (21-17, 7-5) have excelled offensively in the first of conference play.
Through 12 games, Northwestern State ranks second in the league in batting average (.306) and lead the league in runs (104), home runs (24), slugging percentage (.552), on-base percentage (.417) and OPS (.969).
Northwestern State’s 24 home runs are six more than second-place New Orleans, which has homered 18 times in 15 conference games.
Jeffrey Elkins’ solo home run in Wednesday night’s loss at UL Lafayette made him the third NSU player to hit 31 career home runs, forging a three-way tie atop the school’s all-time leaderboard with Daryl Woods and David Fry. Elkins’ blast gave the Demons a home run in seven straight games – a season-long stretch and the longest such run of the Barbier era of NSU baseball.
Overall, Northwestern State has connected on 45 home runs through 38 games, including 28 of them in 20 games at Brown-Stroud Field.
“Jeff got his (Wednesday) night, which was really neat,” Barbier said. “Hopefully, he can break the record a couple of times. The power’s there, which should affect the pitcher – make him nibble a little more, not do what he wants. I would have never guessed we’d be doing that with the homers in our ballpark. It’s a product of the work – the work in the weight room, the work with (associate head) coach (Chris) Bert(rand) and the other coaches.
“It’s a product of sticking with it when it wasn’t going as well early in the season when we played in some conditions that weren’t good for hitters. All of a sudden, we have conditions that are good for hitters and, if you fold your tent and go home because you’re not having a good year, then it doesn’t come to fruition like it has now. We’ve never been a team to rely on a home run, and I don’t think we rely on the home run, but it’s nice to have in the arsenal.”