Following several schedule changes, softball excited to open season at ULM

NSU's Kaitlyn St. Clair and the Lady Demons open the season at ULM on Sunday.
NSU's Kaitlyn St. Clair and the Lady Demons open the season at ULM on Sunday.(Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services)
Published: Feb. 20, 2021 at 11:14 AM CST
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MONROE, La. (NSU Sports Information) — In the long and convoluted road to begin its 2021 season, the Northwestern State softball team has discovered its starting line. The Lady Demons will open the season at ULM with a doubleheader Sunday beginning at 2 p.m. at the Ouachita Sportsplex.

The ULM series marks the fourth different opponent in which NSU was scheduled to open the season. The Lady Demons were originally supposed to commence at the Lady Demon Classic against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Health and weather concerns transformed the Lady Demon Classic into a three-game home series against Tarleton State. That was soon canceled because to travel concerns due to inclement weather.

NSU was slated to travel to Waco, Texas, for the Baylor Getterman Classic, but that was called off because of adverse weather in the region. Suffice it to say, the Lady Demons are eager to take the diamond in Monroe on Sunday.

“The main thing is to play games,” said head coach Donald Pickett. “We couldn’t afford to lose 11 games the first two weeks of the season. Hopefully, we can get up there Sunday, and get a couple games under our belt.”

The Lady Demons have practiced in their hitting cage at the Lady Demon Diamond and inside Prather Coliseum to work on fielding and throwing. It’s obviously not ideal, but NSU isn’t wallowing in frustration.

“This (team) has done a great job and been through a lot,” Pickett said. “They’ve been through this Coronavirus, and now we are getting excited and getting ready to play, and this happens. They’re used to some of this stuff and having to adjust. We don’t like it, but we can’t control it. We are just going to worry about what we can control and move forward.”

Looking back for a minute, the Lady Demons are coming off an abbreviated 2020 season that saw them finish at 15-7 overall and 3-0 in Southland Conference play. NSU finished off a sweep of Sam Houston before the season was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Northwestern State returns nearly everyone from a season ago. Each of its top-five hitters — senior outfielders Hayley Barbazon, Kaitlyn St. Clair and Elise Vincent along with junior designated player Jensen Howell and freshman infielder Kat Marshall — had a cumulative batting average of .333 in 2020.

It’s a similar story in the circle for NSU. All four players who recorded a pitch in 2020 come back.

That distinguished group is led by Howell who made 12 appearances, 10 starts, compiling a record of 8-3 with a 1.88 ERA and 71 strikeouts. Senior Samantha Guile, sophomore Bronte Rhoden and junior E.C. Delafield round out the returning staff.

Those aforementioned players don’t include junior second baseman Cayla Jones and sophomore catcher Alexis Perry who both made the preseason All-Southland team — along with Barbazon, Delafield and Vincent. The veteran-loaded roster combined with the young talent has the Lady Demons eyeing a top-tier finish in the Southland Conference.

That young talent, however, hasn’t seen much game action. That’s what Pickett is hoping for in Sunday’s games. While he wants his squad to play well, he more so wants to see how the young players react to the college game.

“I need to be able to see some of what these kids can do, especially with conference play coming up in a couple of weeks,” Pickett said. “I need to be able to see what some of these newcomers are going to be able to bring to the table in live-game situations against another opponent.”

The Warhawks — who were scheduled to travel to Sam Houston this weekend — come into Sunday’s contest at 1-1 overall. ULM has split a pair of one-run games, dropping a 3-2 decision to Louisiana Tech and edging Jacksonville State 7-6.

Madison Blount leads the way with .286 batting average, which includes one home run and four RBIs. Adrianna Chavarria has started both games for the Warhawks. She has tossed 9.2 innings, laying claim to a 1-1 record and a 2.90 ERA with 11 strikeouts.

The Lady Demons hold the edge in the all-time series against ULM, 63-60-1. The Warhawks have won the last three meetings with the most recent one occurring in 2017.

Following the doubleheader against ULM, Northwestern State will host Grambling in its home opener Tuesday. That game is set for a 5 p.m. first pitch at the Lady Demon Diamond.

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