HAMMOND – Two big swings from Darren Willis swung the momentum away from the Northwestern State baseball team Thursday afternoon.
Willis connected on a pair of grand slams, setting a Southland Conference Tournament record with eight RBIs, to lead New Orleans to a 14-1 run-rule victory in an elimination game at Pat Kenelly Diamond at Alumni Field on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana.
“You don’t want to be judged off the last one,” fifth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “There’s only one team that wants to be judged on the last one. It was a tough one today, but we are so thankful for the seniors and our guys. This group has fought through so much. They persevered and put us in position to do some special things. We didn’t get it done, but I’m so thankful and grateful that I had the opportunity to coach them.”
The Demons (27-26) had their opportunities early in a tight game but never found a key base hit.
NSU stranded five runners in the first three innings, including two each in the first two innings against New Orleans starter Brandon Mitchell (5-2).
The Privateers (29-27), meanwhile, took advantage of a walk and a wild pitch on a strikeout against Levi David (2-6) to build an early 1-0 lead in the first.
That lead held up as Mitchell danced in and out of trouble across the first three innings before Willis began his assault on the SLC Tournament record books.
His fourth-inning grand slam to right-center field carried just far enough out to give the Privateers a 5-0 lead. He keyed a nine-run UNO seventh with his second grand slam, a much deeper shot to left-center.
Travis Gober, who led off the seventh with a groundout as a pinch hitter, capped the nine-run outburst with the Privateers’ third grand slam of the game.
After threatening early, the sixth-seeded Demons answered Willis’ first slam with a run-scoring double play off the bat of Cameron Parikh that stood as NSU’s lone run of the game.
David, a third-team All-Southland Conference selection, struck out seven in three-plus innings, giving him 104 on the season, tying Luke Irvine and Brian Lawrence for second in school single-season history.
“It was pretty special to watch him this year,” Barbier said. “We’ve always known he has elite stuff. For him to be second in strikeouts with missing two starts is incredible. I’m very, very proud of him and anxious to see where his career takes him.”
New Orleans 14, Northwestern State 1
UNO 100 400 9 — 14 8 0
NSU 000 100 0 – 1 5 3
W – Brandon Mitchell (5-2). L – Levi David (2-6). 2B – UNO, Gaige Howard. HR – UNO, Darren Willis 2 (5), Travis Gober (3). Highlights: UNO, Willis 2-4, 2 GS, 8 RBIs; Howard 2-3, 2B, RBI, Gober GS, 4 RBIs.
Records: New Orleans 29-27; Northwestern State 27-26.