NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State baseball team leaves the comforts of home for the first time in the 2020 season Wednesday night, heading south to face longtime rival UL Lafayette.
After seven straight games at Brown-Stroud Field, the Demons (6-1) start their road schedule at 6 p.m. at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park against a familiar opponent.
Northwestern State and the Ragin’ Cajuns (2-6) have met 55 times since 1990, and the in-state rivalry added another layer of familiarity in the offseason when former Sam Houston State coach Matt Deggs, who spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at NSU, took over for Tony Robichaux, who died unexpectedly July 3.
“It’s always exciting to go down there and play,” fourth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “They have a great facility and always have a good, competitive team. They’re off to a little bit of a slow start, but coach Deggs is a good coach, and he’ll have them ready to play (Wednesday) night.”
Northwestern State enters its first mid-week matchup of the season on a five-game win streak, its longest since May 2018 when NSU finished the regular season with a win at New Orleans before sweeping four games in the Southland Conference Tournament.
The Demons have built their win streak behind a pitching staff that has allowed two or fewer earned runs in five of the six victories, producing a 1.29 ERA that is tied with Alabama for sixth nationally.
Northwestern State’s strong pitching has given its offense a larger margin for error and time to come back in games as it did with four runs in the final 1 1-3 innings of a 4-3 win against North Alabama in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. NSU bumped up its overall team average 81 points in the four games against North Alabama but will face a Cajuns squad that pitches to a 3.62 ERA.
“It’s trying to find that right sauce,” Barbier said of early-season lineup construction. “We played quite a few different lineups (against North Alabama). You’re in the dugout trying to just at-bats, not just on the result. You look at the quality of swings, the quality of the at-bats. That’s what non-conference is for us as coaches. You play with a few things while always attacking the game as a player. It’s difficult when coaches mess with the lineup and guys are in and out. We preach to them every day, ‘Come ready to play even when we’re shuffling guys in and out.’ We’re getting close to figuring out what it will be as we move forward.”
Making their road debut in the eighth game of the season marks the latest such situation for a Demon team since 2017 when NSU also opened with seven straight home games.
Playing at Russo Park will give Barbier a chance to see how his team, which has seen 16 players make their Division I debuts this season, fares away from Brown-Stroud Field, a place Northwestern State has won nearly 65 percent of its games in the Barbier era.
“Hopefully nothing changes,” Barbier said. “The bases are still 90 feet. I’m ready to see how we handle the bus ride down, the focus we get off the bus with. We’ll talk about this with the team, but you’ve got to have a little dog in you to win on the road. You have to go in and take it.
“It’s different than defending at home. It’s going and taking something. That’s the mentality these guys have to have – go in and compete against whatever they throw at us.”
Free streaming audio of the game will be provided on www.NSUDemons.com and through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, available for free download through the Apple Store and Google Play.