NATCHITOCHES – With one swing, Gabe Colaianni provided all the juice that the Northwestern State campus was missing for two hours Saturday afternoon.
Colaianni drilled the first pitch he saw from Tarleton reliever A.J. Wood over the right-field fence for a walk-off, three-run home run that capped a 5-3 win in the nightcap of the Demons’ doubleheader sweep of the Texans at Brown-Stroud Field on Saturday.
“I was pretty much focused on my timing, and I saw Hilton (Brown) hit that foul ball home run, and I thought, ‘I’ve got this,’” said Colaianni, whose walk-off blast doubled as his first career home run. “I just went in there first pitch, knowing I was swinging and trying to put a barrel on the ball.”
On a windy afternoon where the west side of Natchitoches lost power for close to two hours, Colaianni’s winner wrapped up a ninth inning that saw the Demons (3-4) enjoy an offensive breakthrough.
Lenni Kunert’s first-pitch double off Zach Poe jump-started a Northwestern State offense that had managed just four hits in the first eight innings against Poe and starter Bryce Hackett.
After a Cam Sibley fly ball moved pinch runner Larson Fontenot to third, Wood (0-1) came on and retired Ryan Zimmerman on a hard-hit line drive to left that wasn’t deep enough for Fontenot to risk scoring.
The Demons nearly ended the game a batter earlier as Hilton Brown hit a deep fly ball that hooked foul on a 2-2 pitch from Wood. Brown stayed with it and coaxed a walk off the right-hander before Colaianni ambushed Wood’s first pitch for his first career walk-off home run at any level.
“A big part of hitting is having your timing down and getting good reps,” Colaianni said. “We’re going to keep working at practice every day and keep coming out and banging the ball so good things happen.”
Kunert went 2-for-4 in the nightcap as part of a three-hit day for the sixth-year senior.
“That’s why we keep running Lenni back out there,” fifth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “We’ve seen him do that quite a few times in his career. Hopefully, there’s more of it.”
The Demons took a third-inning lead in the nightcap on Daunte Stuart’s first career home run, a solo shot with two outs, before Tarleton scored three runs – a pair of which were unearned – in the fourth inning off starter Levi David.
From there, the Demon bullpen trio of Donovan Ohnoutka (2-plus innings), Drake Smith (2 innings) and Josh Banes (1 inning) worked scoreless relief, allowing the Demons to fashion the sixth win of the Barbier era when trailing after eight innings.
Banes earned the win with a scoreless ninth as NSU’s relievers followed the script set forth in the opener.
Left-hander Cal Carver (1-0) spun five shutout innings, striking out five while scattering four hits before Drayton Brown struck out five in four innings of relief to earn his first career save.
The Demons got the offense they needed off Zach Gagnon (0-2) in the third and fourth innings as Kendall Foster singled home Daunte Stuart in the third and Sibley brought home Kunert, who had doubled, with a squeeze bunt in the fourth.
Carver and Brown made it stand up despite some drama in the ninth inning that ended when Cameron Horton started a game-ending double play on a short-hop liner and an eventual rundown that involved every member of the infield.
All told, the Demon pitching staff struck out 25 Tarleton hitters on the day, including a season-high 15 in the second game, led by David’s seven strikeouts in four innings.
“We pitched it pretty good today,” Barbier said. “Donny pitched great. Drake Smith pitched great. Josh Banes, after starting Wednesday, only had one inning today, but he pitched great in his one inning.”
The Demons return to action Friday when they host Austin Peay in the 6:30 p.m. opener of a three-game series.
Northwestern State 2-5, Tarleton 1-3
TSU 000 000 001 – 1 7 2
NSU 001 100 00x – 2 6 1
W – Cal Carver (1-0). L – Zach Gagnon (0-2). S – Drayton Brown (1). 2B – TSU, Corey Young. NSU, Lenni Kunert. Highlights: TSU, Young 2-4; Dean Frew 2-4. NSU, Daunte Stuart 2-3.
TSU 000 300 000 – 3 5 1
NSU 001 100 003 – 5 6 4
W – Josh Banes (1-1). L – A.J. Wood (0-1). 2B – TSU, Colby Seltzer. NSU, Lenni Kunert. HR – NSU, Daunte Stuart (1), Gabe Colaianni (1). Highlights: NSU, Kunert 2-4; Colaianni walk-off, three-run HR.
Records: Tarleton 2-6; Northwestern State 3-4.