LAKE CHARLES – Northwestern State’s first Southland Conference Baseball Tournament win in five years ended with a Rocky Mountain high.
Sophomore right-hander Chase Prestwich finished a seven-out save with a flourish, striking out Grant Randall with the tying run on third to preserve the fifth-seeded Demons’ 2-1 opening-round win against UIW at Joe Miller Ballpark on Wednesday afternoon.
“I’ve been in a lot of big spots this season and at times I’ve let the game speed up on me,” said Prestwich, who notched his second save and sent the Demons to Thursday’s 6 p.m. winner’s bracket game against either No. 3 seed Lamar or fourth-seeded New Orleans. “Those moments really helped me go out there today and settle down and focus. Deep breaths and really settling down and really breathe.”
Neither Prestwich, a native of Frederick, Colorado, nor starting pitcher Cal Carver (7-3) allowed the Cardinals (28-25) to breathe much.
After UIW nicked him for a run in the first inning, Carver artfully worked around traffic on the bases to work 6 2-3 innings for the third straight Southland Conference Tournament start. With Prestwich’s help, Carver notched his first SLC Tournament win and the 18th of his career, moving him into a three-way tie for ninth on NSU’s all-time list.
The win came in Carver’s 45th career start, tying the school record set by Dennis Choate from 1972-75.
Carer needed 26 pitches to get out of the first inning, allowing only Rey Mendoza’s sacrifice fly to left. A six-pitch second inning, highlighted by a line-drive double play started by second baseman Daunte Stuart, got him back in the groove.
“That first inning, I had some stressful pitches and was able to get in the dugout, relax, take some breaths and get going for the rest of the game,” Carver said. “Knowing guys like Daunte and Jake (Haze) are going to make those plays every single time is really good.”
The other half of the Demon battery was equally instrumental in pushing Northwestern State (28-25) into the winner’s bracket for the first time since 2018 when the Demons collected their only tournament championship in program history.
Bo Willis had a hand in both of the Demons’ runs, starting a two-out, second-inning rally with a double off UIW starter Kayden Cassidy (3-3) before putting NSU ahead to stay with a solo home run to left off Cassidy in the fourth.
Willis finished 3-for-4, marking his second three-hit game of the season. His double capped a nine-pitch at-bat and came in front of Gray Rowlett’s game-tying double to right field.
“I think the ball here is pretty easy to see,” said Willis, who went 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs in his Joe Miller Ballpark debut a season ago against McNeese. “The place and the atmosphere, I just feel comfortable in the box. This year hasn’t gone the best for me, so I was trying to relax, see the ball over the plate and put the bat on it. I fought off some really good pitches, one came inside and I pulled it down the line.”
Willis’ second big swing came on the first pitch he saw from Cassidy in the fourth, turning it around and driving it out to straightaway left field. Earlier in the game, the Demons had seen two other well-hit balls to left fall short of leaving the ballpark.
“I got what I wanted and put the best swing I could on it,” Willis said of the home run. “I was iffy about it. I didn’t want to jog out of the box. I wanted to look at a little bit, but I wanted to get to first base so I didn’t get yelled at.”
While Willis had the big swing, the Demon pitching made pivotal pitch after pivotal pitch as NSU improved to 3-1 against UIW this season.
Carver scattered seven hits in 6 2-3 innings while Prestwich had to work around a leadoff infield single in the ninth, stranding Alec Carr at third base by striking out Randall.
“Today was a strange day for this part, because it’s typically a hitter’s park this time of the year,” seventh-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “It played differently today, and we did a good job of throwing strikes. We liked the matchup with (Prestwich) starting ninth. Fro (closer Kyle Froehlich) is down there – and last weekend we gave it up a couple times – but we trusted the matchup with Chase the two right-handers coming up. He kept making good pitches.”
While the Demons await the winner of the Lamar-New Orleans matchup, NSU has announced it will start second-team All-Southland Conference selection Alex Makarewich (5-4, 5.16) in the winner’s bracket game.
Northwestern State 2, UIW 1
NSU 010 100 000 – 2 7 0
UIW 100 000 000 – 1 9 1
W – Cal Carver (7-3). L – Kayden Cassidy (3-3). S – Chase Prestwich (2). 2B – NSU, Bo Willis, Gray Rowlett. UIW, Grant Randall. HR – NSU, Bo Willis (4). Highlights: NSU, Willis 3-4, 2B, HR, RBI. UIW, Hernan Yanez 2-4; Jimmy DeLeon 2-2; Alec Carr 2-4.
Records: Northwestern State 28-25; UIW 28-25.