HOUSTON, Texas – There’s no place like home to open a season, but five Northwestern State softball players get to experience the next best thing this weekend.
The Lady Demons will start its season this weekend with four games at the University of Houston Invitational as five Houston-area players get to play close to their hometowns.
Second baseman Cayla Jones will see plenty of familiar faces in NSU uniforms as the Lady Demons return eight starters from the offensive lineup and three of four primary pitchers, but Jones will recognize some Houston Cougars from her travel ball days.
NSU will play a pair of games Saturday (against UMass-Lowell at 9 a.m. and Valpo at 11 a.m.) before finishing Sunday with Fordham at 11:30 a.m. and Houston at 2 p.m.
Fans can catch a video stream of the Houston game and live stats of every game at uhcougars.com.
“It’s amazing to play near my home,” said Jones, a Missouri City, Texas, native. “I’ll be playing against people I played with in travel ball, and we’ve had a great back and forth since we learned we’d be playing each other in the opening weekend.
“I practice with these girls on break, and we’ll go hit together. For us as a team, we understand that we’ve been here before and everybody can contribute. I look forward to seeing what we can do.”
Fordham and Houston were both NCAA Tournament teams in 2019. The Rams won the Atlantic 10 Conference with 29 total wins and Houston was an at-large bid at 39-19.
UMass-Lowell finished second in the America East Conference with 28 total wins. Valpo is in a rebuilding mode, but they feature Addi Burke, younger sister of former Lady Demon infielder Cali Burke.
NSU coach Donald Pickett, who is beginning his 12th season, knows his team that won 30 games and advanced to the Southland Conference Tournament winner’s bracket will be tested in the opening weekend.
“It’s a good opportunity to see where we’re at,” Pickett said. “Weather always plays a factor in the preseason, and it’s been tough on us this year. We looked good last week when we were able to get outside.
“We have a lot of kids from Houston, and it’ll be great to have families and coaches who’ve helped them along the way see them play. There are quality teams in this tournament.”
NSU features five seniors and three in the outfield – Kaitlyn St. Clair, Hayley Barbazon and Elise Vincent.
St. Clair (Cypress) is also one of the five Houston-area natives, joining Jones, Casey Irvin (Houston), Kat Marshall (Brenham) and Savannah Bartay (Brenham).
“We’re really excited to get the season going, and all the Houston players are thrilled about going back to play,” St. Clair said. “This senior group is really close after having been through a lot the first three years.
“We’ve grown up together, and the whole team is looking forward to building on our experience of winning SLC Tournament games and 30 games last year. We’re ready to do some damage this year and do better than just two tournament wins.”
After the opening tournament, NSU returns home to Lady Demon Diamond to host the Natchitoches Historic District and Development Commission Lady Demon Classic starting Feb. 14.
NSU is scheduled to face Murray State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff each day from Feb. 14-16 at Lady Demon Diamond.
PHOTO CUTLINE: Cypress native Kaitlyn St. Clair is one of five NSU players that are from the Houston area. The Lady Demons open their season Saturday with a pair of games at the Houston Invitational.
CREDIT: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services