NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State softball team cranked up the offense in the opening weekend at the Houston Invitational, and the Lady Demons will bring that show back home as they prepare for the Lady Demon Classic.
The classic, presented by the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission, starts Friday at noon and consists of three doubleheaders against Murray State (3-2) and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-5) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Action starts Saturday at 11 a.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m.
The Lady Demons (2-2) averaged nearly seven runs per game in its opening weekend as the lineup hit .307, clubbed five home runs and added six other extra-base hits.
“It’s great to come back home and work on the things we need to shore up from the first weekend,” said NSU coach Donald Pickett, who is one win away from 300 career wins in his 12th season in the Lady Demon dugout. “Our lineup is a little deeper than we’ve been in the past couple of years, and the deeper you are, the more consistent you’ll be because of quality bats.
“We can take advantage of mistakes more easily, and you don’t give pitchers a break when you can bat one through nine.”
Senior Hayley Barbazon provided one of the special moments in the opening weekend, belting a grand slam in the No. 9 hole to pull away late from Valpo in a 6-1 victory.
Her first collegiate grand slam helped her to a team-high .556 batting average as she reached base in eight of 12 plate appearances.
“My thought process was to get the ball on the ground and move runners, so the grand slam was definitely a plus,” said Barbazon, who added she’s been focused on improving her productivity in her final season. “My favorite moment was running in and the team being so excited for me because they just support me all the time.
“It’s special because I’ve struggled some in past years, but I’m coming in this year with a positive mindset and to do my job. (The grand slam) gives me extra confidence.”
Barbazon led an all-senior outfield that produced well, joining Kaitlyn St. Clair (.538 average) and Elise Vinent (.333 with five walks and three steals).
Junior E.C. Delafield had her best weekend of her career as she smacked two home runs and two doubles as part of an 8-RBI weekend (5-12).
A two-run home run tied the game against Fordham in the sixth inning of an eventual 4-3 loss, largely affected by three NSU errors that accounted for four unearned Rams’ runs.
“(Delafield’s) maturity level and confidence because of knowing what to expect was big,” Pickett said. “She’s always been capable, but she’s getting a lot more confident in her abilities.
“She saw good pitches and was able to take advantage.”
Pickett added that NSU got quality pitching starts in three of four games over the weekend, contributing to a team ERA of 3.23.
Sophomore Bronte Rhoden (1-0) earned a win vs. UMass Lowell with two runs allowed in six innings, and junior Jensen Howell (1-1) bested Valpo with run allowed in five innings.
Senior Samantha Guile picked up the save against Valpo, and she didn’t allow an earned run against Fordham as she tossed 6.1 innings with three unearned runs.
“Our pitching was good enough to win three games,” Pickett said. “They kept us in games, especially against Valpo as our offense needed time to adjust.
“Our defense didn’t back up our pitching against Fordham, but I’m confident we’ll keep getting those quality starts.”
Murray State was picked fourth in the preseason Ohio Valley Conference and tossed two shutouts (South Dakota State and Drake).
UAPB struggled in the circle and on defense against quality competition in the opening weekend, allowing 54 runs in five games (40 earned).