NATCHITOCHES – The road to the 2019 Southland Conference softball championship literally went through Natchitoches as Northwestern State hosted the league tournament this past season.
It’s more figurative in 2020 with Southeastern hosting the SLC Tournament, but the Lady Demons will host many of the conference’s top teams from this past season as NSU released its 2020 softball schedule Thursday.
The Lady Demons welcome the top four seeds from this past season’s tournament to Natchitoches and another tournament participant as NSU plays five of its nine conference series at home.
NSU will prepare for that conference slate with a diverse non-conference schedule.
While the early slab of games doesn’t feature as many Power Five opponents as usual (only LSU in Baton Rouge on March 18), the Lady Demons will face five other national postseason participants in non-conference action.
NSU starts its season Feb. 8-9 at the Houston Invitational, which features NCAA Tournament members Houston and Fordham (Atlantic 10 champion) along with UMass-Lowell and Valparaiso.
“We get to play some different teams, and we’ll see how we match up against different styles of play,” said NSU coach Donald Pickett, who will enter his 12th season at NSU. “It’ll be a challenge to play against teams we don’t normally get to play against.
“The schedule is a little more diverse than in the past, and we’re excited about that.”
The Lady Demons host its second straight Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission Lady Demon Classic from Feb. 14-16. NSU will play Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Murray State three times each.
NSU cruises down to the Mardi Gras Mambo Tournament (Feb. 21-23) in Youngsville where they’ll face five different teams, including NCAA Tournament member Detroit Mercy (Horizon champion) and NISC participant Middle Tennessee. The Lady Demons will also face Houston Baptist in a non-conference contest along with Jacksonville and Mississippi Valley State.
Middle Tennessee is one of three opponents who played in the NISC, joining SLC members Stephen F. Austin and McNeese. Combine those with six NCAA Tournament opponents, and the Lady Demons play 17 games against nine opponents who reached national postseason events.
“The (NISC) makes the (regular season) more important because if you get to 30 wins or more, you can get invited to that tournament,” Pickett said. “We’ve been invited a couple of times but haven’t been able to make it work, but it gets you that postseason opportunity and extra experience in those bracket games. That helps you when you play in the SLC Tournament, and you’re competing against quality teams and getting better.”
The Lady Demons remain on the road for a Feb. 27 midweek at Jackson State before heading up to the Memphis Blues City Classic from Feb. 28-March 1.
Aside from Memphis, NSU will face Western Illinois, Northern Illinois, Evansville and North Alabama.
After a March 3 midweek at Grambling, NSU begins SLC play by hosting defending champion Sam Houston State (March 6-7).
The Lady Demons host SLC Tournament participant Lamar the following weekend (March 13-14) before hitting the road to LSU (March 18).
“It’s great that we play five of our nine series at home, but we host the top four teams from last year in terms of tournament seeding,” Pickett said. “It’s a challenging schedule that includes us playing against all seven of the other tournament teams from last year.
NSU will get a taste of SLC Tournament host Southeastern (March 20-21) in its first road conference series.
“It also benefits to play at the tournament site in Hammond because our freshmen and sophomores hadn’t played there yet,” Pickett said. “They can get a taste of it in that series before we go down there.”
NSU hosts NCAA Tournament member Louisiana Tech in a March 25 midweek and will return the trip against the Conference USA champion on April 1.
The Lady Demons will finish the five-game home stand with a series against Nicholls (March 27-28) and a March 31 midweek against Grambling.
A seven-game road trip awaits the Louisiana Tech midweek before heading to Central Arkansas (April 3-4) and Abilene Christian (April 10-11).
NSU returns home to face Stephen F. Austin (April 17-18) with an April 21 midweek against Southern.
The Lady Demons make its final road trip of the season to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (April 24-25) before finishing its season at home against McNeese (May 1-2).
The SLC Tournament will take place May 5-8 at Southeastern.
NORTHWESTERN STATE SOFTBALL SCHEDULE
Feb. 8 UMass-Lowell 9 a.m.
Feb. 8 Valpo 11 a.m.
Feb. 9 Fordham 11:30 a.m.
Feb. 9 at Houston 2 p.m.
NHDDC Lady Demon Classic
Feb. 14 Murray State Noon
Feb. 14 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 2:30 p.m.
Feb. 15 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 11 a.m.
Feb. 15 Murray State 1:30 p.m.
Feb. 16 Murray State 10 a.m.
Feb. 16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 12:30 p.m.
Mardi Gras Mambo Tournament (Youngsville)
Feb. 21 Houston Baptist 3 p.m.
Feb. 21 Detroit Mercy 5 p.m.
Feb. 22 Middle Tennessee 3 p.m.
Feb. 23 Jacksonville 10 a.m.
Feb. 23 Mississippi Valley St. 2 p.m.
Feb. 27 at Jackson State (DH) 3 p.m.
Memphis Blues City Classic
Feb. 28 at Memphis 4:30 p.m.
Feb. 28 Western Illinois 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 29 Evansville 11:30 a.m.
Feb. 29 North Alabama 4:30 p.m.
March 1 Northern Illinois 9 a.m.
March 3 at Grambling 3 p.m.
March 6 *Sam Houston St. (DH) 4 p.m.
March 7 *Sam Houston St. 1 p.m.
March 13 *Lamar (DH) 4 p.m.
March 14 *Lamar 1 p.m.
March 18 at LSU 6 p.m.
March 20 *at Southeastern 5 p.m.
March 21 *at Southeastern Noon
March 25 Louisiana Tech 6 p.m.
March 27 *Nicholls (DH) 4 p.m.
March 28 *Nicholls Noon
March 31 Grambling 6 p.m.
April 1 at Louisiana Tech 6 p.m.
April 3 *at Central Arkansas 4 p.m.
April 4 *at Central Arkansas 1 p.m.
April 10 *at Abilene Christian (DH) 5 p.m.
April 11 *at Abilene Christian Noon
April 17 *Stephen F. Austin (DH) 4 p.m.
April 18 *Stephen F. Austin 1 p.m.
April 21 Southern 5 p.m.
April 24 *at TAMU-CC 1 p.m.
April 25 *at TAMU-CC Noon
May 1 *McNeese TBA
May 2 *McNeese TBA