Similarly built Demons, Colonels meet in Southland series
The following was released by NSU Athletics:
NATCHITOCHES, La. - On paper, there is not much difference between the Nicholls and Northwestern State baseball teams.
The Southland Conference rivals square off this weekend in a pivotal four-game conference series that features near mirror-image squads who enter the set tied for fourth place in the league standings.
“There are a lot of similarities between the two teams,” fifth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “Both hung our hat on pitching early, and the bats are coming around. They play a little different style of offense than we typically like to play. We need to be better at that style and defending that style of offense. We got exposed a little bit last weekend. It showed us where we need to tighten up.”
The Demons (17-17, 11-9) and Colonels (16-19, 11-9) open the series with a 6:30 p.m. Friday matchup and follow it with a 2 p.m. Saturday doubleheader and a 1 p.m. Sunday single game. All four games can be heard on 95.9 FM Kix Country and the Demon Sports Network. Free streaming audio and subscription video are available at www.NSUDemons.com and through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices.
The similarities between Northwestern State and Nicholls are rooted in both the win-loss record in conference play and in their statistics.
The teams are separated by two points in batting average - .215 for Nicholls, .213 for Northwestern State - and by 0.20 in ERA – the Colonels pitch to a 3.98 ERA, the Demons at 4.18.
Even their week-by-week results in conference play are remarkably similar.
The Demons went 3-1 against Abilene Christian from April 1-3 and have split their four other conference series. Nicholls owns a four-game sweep in conference play, taking all four from Stephen F. Austin from March 12-14 and has split series at Abilene Christian and against Houston Baptist while dropping a series to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Those results have put the teams in a deep, crowded middle section of the Southland Conference standings. With five weeks left in the regular season, seven teams are within two games of fourth place.
Northwestern State has been able to force splits in four Southland series largely because of their performance in series finales. The Demons have won four of five series enders, including three straight.
“The last three weeks have been about (starting pitcher) Donovan Ohnoutka,” Barbier said. “He’s done what we’ve asked him to do. He weathered the storm (at Houston Baptist) and got us deep into the game. Four-game series are tough on a pitching staff, especially when you have younger guys in the bullpen that you don’t want to (pitch twice on a weekend). (Ohnoutka) settling the game down has been huge for us, along with us getting into their bullpen. Most teams have the same problems we’ve had when you get to the fourth game, especially when you play them in two days.”
Ohnoutka has started each of the past three series finales, going deeper into the game each week, culminating with a career-long, six-inning outing at Houston Baptist this past Sunday.
Though Ohnoutka has not earned a decision in those three starts, the Demons have picked things up offensively in those games, averaging 6.7 runs per game in those matchups, often seeing a different hitting hero each week.
Against Abilene Christian on April 3, Jeffrey Elkins delivered the game-winning hit in the 10th inning. Lenni Kunert had a key three-run home run in the series finale against Lamar on April 11. In this past Sunday’s 6-5 win at Houston Baptist, it was Larson Fontenot’s turn.
A week after taking seven hit by pitches in the series against Lamar, Fontenot capped the series in Houston with his first career four-hit game, including a two-run single to put the Demons ahead to stay in the eighth inning.
“He had a great day,” Barbier said of Fontenot. “We threw him in the lineup a couple of weeks ago. The hits weren’t always there, but he kept getting on base. He took his hit by pitches, took his walks. He swung at strikes, which is something we needed to do more of in the lineup. Then he gets the four-hit game and the big one at the end of the game. It was the cherry on top.”
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