NATCHITOCHES – Bobby Barbier wondered aloud how his Northwestern State baseball team would respond to seeing its seven-game winning streak end.
His Demons provided him an emphatic answer to that question Sunday afternoon.
Freshman right-hander Johnathan Harmon tossed eight dominant innings, and the Demons delivered a seventh-inning knockout blow to Eastern Illinois’ bullpen in a 6-3 win against the Panthers at Brown-Stroud Field.
“I thought it was our most complete game this year,” Barbier said. “Johnny was great on the mound. We played great defense. Sib (Cam Sibley) was really good at shortstop. It was a tough day to hit, and we grinded out some at-bats to put together single runs early, and when we had the opportunity, we put together some big hits in a row to drive in some runs. To play your most complete game the day after you’ve been beaten, that’s important. It says a lot about our team.”
Harmon (2-0) established new career highs in innings pitched and strikeouts (6) while limiting the Panthers (4-5) to four hits and one run.
Pitching with a hard wind blowing in, Harmon induced 11 groundball outs and started one of the Demons’ two double plays on the day.
“I got really comfortable out there,” said Harmon, who pitched six innings in each of his first two starts. “It’s really easy following the game plan coach Bob gives me. I just have to execute it. That’s the easy part.”
The Demons (9-2) forced Eastern Illinois starter Jesse Wainscott (1-1) to throw 83 pitches in 4 2-3 innings, knocking him out in the fifth inning on the first of two Marshall Skinner RBI singles.
By comparison, Harmon needed the same number of pitches to cover his eight innings of work.
Once the Demons got into the Panthers bullpen, the NSU offense came to life.
With the Demons leading 2-1, Sibley led off what became a four-run seventh inning with a double inside the first-base bag and scored on Lenni Kunert’s RBI single.
Kunert took second on an error by right fielder Tyler Tesmond and scored on a one-out Skinner single. Two batters later, Hilton Brown lined a single to left field, chasing left-hander Trevor Nicholson from the game.
Peyton Davis then welcomed right-hander Blayke Cutts with a two-run double to right-center field to establish a 6-1 lead.
“The coaches told us to get to the starter as fast as we could, because the arms in the pen weren’t as good,” said Kunert, who finished 3-for-5 with an RBI. “We had to get on the starter as fast as we could, and we did that today. We got some key hits early and late to get the Demons going.”
With Harmon pitching efficiently, the Demons didn’t need much offense.
After Ryan Knernschield tied the game with a fourth-inning single, Harmon retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced, holding Eastern Illinois hitless in that span.
“Johnny’s been really good,” Kunert said. “He’s going to be a great player for this program in the coming years. The way he attacks the zone keeps us engaged at all times. We know he’s going to be around the zone, so we stay on our toes and make plays behind him.
“Cam Sibley made some unbelievable plays at short today, which was fun to watch. Daunte (Stuart’s diving) catch was unreal. I thought it was going to be a hit for sure until I saw Daunte diving through the air.”
Kunert and Skinner (2-for-4) posted multi-hit games for the Demons while Skinner and Davis each had a pair of RBIs.
The Demons return to action Tuesday night when they travel to Southern to face the 2019 SWAC Tournament champion Jaguars. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Lee-Hines Field in Baton Rouge.
Northwestern State 6, Eastern Illinois 3
EIU 000 100 002 – 3 7 2
NSU 001 010 40x – 6 9 0
W – Johnathan Harmon (2-0). L – Jesse Wainscott (1-1). 2B – EIU, Grant Emme, Christian Pena. NSU, Cam Sibley, Peyton Davis. Highlights: EIU, Pena 2-3. NSU, Lenni Kunert 3-5, RBI; Marshall Skinner 2-4, 2 RBIs.
Records: Eastern Illinois 4-5; Northwestern State 9-2.