Demons Drop Heartbreaker, Eliminated from SLC Tournament
CONWAY, Ark. – The Northwestern State baseball team was three outs away from a win that would continue its season into the final day of the Southland Conference Tournament, but a five-run top of the ninth inning from Southeastern Louisiana eliminated the Demons in a 7-3 semifinal loss Friday night at Bear Stadium.
Fourth-seeded NSU (33-25) finished its season with a 17-win turnaround, tied for the largest in school history. Its 14-win advantage from last season in conference play was the most in league history, and the Demons won a game in the SLC tournament for the first time since 2006.
"Our guys competed and battled. It was our motto all year long. We just competed and battled," said Demon baseball head coach Lane Burroughs. "We went from 16 wins total to 33, tied for third in the league standings and made it to the semis of the tournament.
"We are building a program," said the second-year skipper. "I think the foundation has been laid, and I think it is because of these seniors, they did a great job."
NSU advanced to the semifinals after Steven Spann pitched a no-hitter through 7.1 innings and finished off a complete game against No. 22 Sam Houston to lead Northwestern State to a 4-1 win earlier in the day.
Southeastern Louisiana (36-23), the fifth seed, locked a spot in the championship game that will be played at 1 o'clock on Saturday. Had the Demons won, the two would have met at 9 o'clock Saturday morning with the spot in the championship on the line.
Brandon Smith, who was perfect up until the ninth inning after four innings of relief work, had a 2-2 count on Southland Newcomer of the Year Andrew Godbold, and let one get too far inside and hit him. Brett Hoffman followed with a single into center field to put Lions at first and second.
Kennon Midyett tried to put down a sacrifice bunt, popped it up and Demon third baseman Chase Daughdrill hustled in to catch it. Sam Roberson hit a chopper that fell right in front of the plate, but an error allowed him to reach and loaded the bases with one out.
Kennon Menard unloaded a double into left center field to put the Lions up 4-3, and the final run scored on a ground out from Jacob Seward.
SLU jumped up 2-0 after the first inning, but NSU battled back in the fourth inning to tie it. Nathan Lyons led off the fourth with a solo home run to left field, and Joel Atkinson scored Nick Heath on a ground out. Heath reached on a single through the left side, and quickly stole two bags to get into scoring position.
The Demons took the lead in the fifth after Cort Brinson scored from third base on a wild pitch. Brinson reached on a two-out walk, and advanced to third base when Daughdrill singled into left center
Evan Tidwell started the second game on the hill for NSU, and he pitched four innings. He gave up two runs on four this and two walks. Joey Parrack relieved Smith after the error that loaded the bases, and walked the only batter he faced.
Josh Oller finished the game and pitched one inning with one hit allowed.
Edwin Gomez finished his final game as a Demon with five hits in five at-bats. Heath had his third three-hit game of the tournament Friday night, and Daughdrill had two hits. As a team NSU had 14 hits, but stranded 14 on the bags.
In the first game, Spann was staked to a quick edge on a bases-loaded hit by pitch in the second inning, then got insurance with a three-run top of the eighth before the Bearkats broke up the no-hitter with a solo home run in their half of the inning. He scattered three singles the rest of the way, finishing with six strikeouts.
Spann started off quick and retired the side in the first inning on seven pitches. He started off the second inning with two outs on two pitches, but loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter. A runner reached in the third on an error, but a double play erased that and ended the inning.
The right-handed senior retired the side in order, two on strikeouts. He gave up a walk in the fourth inning, but stranded the Bearkat at first base. Two runners reached in the seventh on two walks, but two fly outs ended that frame.
"I didn't really figure out that I had a (no-hitter) going until about the seventh inning. Guys were just away from me in the dugout, and people were like, 'don't talk to him.' I told them I was fine, and asking why they were avoiding me," said Spann. "They were definitely avoiding me, wanting me to stay focused throughout the game."
The eighth inning was where Sam Houston broke up the no-hitter on a home run to right field from Bearkat first baseman Ryan O'Hearn. Southland Player of the Year Anthony Azar reached on a single on the left side of the infield, and advanced to third on a double down the left field line from Corey Toups. Both runners were stranded on a ground ball in the next at-bat.
"We would not be where we are (this season) without Steven. Quite frankly, he had been struggling lately," said Burroughs. "I have been doing this for 20 years, and I have never been as proud of a young man as I am of Steven Spann right now."
Spann allowed a runner on a single up the middle by Ryan Farney and took second on a ground out, but was stranded there when Spann struck out Luke Plucheck to end the game.
NSU used three-run eighth inning to give Spann some cushion. Heath, who reached on a single through the right side, scored on a sacrifice fly to center field from Edwin Gomez. Lyons took second base after Webster was hit by a pitch, and advanced to third when Joel Atkinson reached on an error when he tried to give himself up.
Webster and Atkinson moved up a bag when Bret Underwood grounded out to the right side, and scored on a single up the middle by Caleb Dugas.
The game's first run was scored when Heath was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Cort Brinson, who started the inning with a hit by pitch, took second base on a single through the left side and third on when Lyons reached on a fielder's choice.?