Demons bring bats in win over Southern

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BATON ROUGE -- When the Northwestern State baseball team needed a big swing Wednesday night, Austin Stegall was there to provide it.

Stegall homered to start the Demons' scoring and began a key two-run ninth inning as Northwestern State held off Southern, 6-3, at Lee-Hines Field.

"We didn't play very well tonight," third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. "Fortunately, we were able to pitch it pretty well tonight and play pretty good defense. That's the way you have to win games when you don't swing the bats particularly well."

The Demons (13-9) survived striking out 15 times because Stegall and Caleb Ricca connected on home runs early against Eli Finney (1-1) and Larson Fontenot joined Stegall with a key RBI double and an aggressive base-running play in the two-run ninth.

Stegall continued his hot streak that began with the go-ahead RBI single in Saturday's 5-2 win against Lamar. He added a solo home run in Sunday's win and started the scoring Wednesday night with his third home run of the season, a two-out solo shot in the second inning.

"Last weekend against Lamar, I was getting jammed, so I tried to see it early and get the bat head out on it," said Stegall, who went 2-for-3. "I knew (Finney) was going to try to pound the zone. That's what the scouting report said. I was hunting a fastball. I wasn't taking any time. If something came over the plate, I was going to put a barrel on it."

The Demons tagged Finney for five hits and three runs in four innings despite striking out eight times against the Jaguars right-hander. Both of Finney's decisions have come against the Demons as he earned the win in the second game of the Feb. 24 doubleheader at Brown-Stroud Field.

Left-hander Tyler Pigott (3-1) was strong in a designated short start for Northwestern State. Making his first start of the season, Pigott retired the first seven Southern (14-11) hitters he faced before surrendering a double to Courtland Simoneaux.

After Tyler LaPorte's two-out RBI double, Pigott struck out Ashanti Wheatley to maintain a 3-1 lead and end his three-inning stint with four strikeouts.

From there, both bullpens settled in.

Aside from Ricca manufacturing a fifth-inning run with his legs – a walk, two stolen bases and a throwing error on the second – neither relief corps allowed a run until the top of the ninth when Stegall laced the first pitch he saw from Bryce Ross to left-center field for a leadoff double.

Three batters later, Fontenot split the same gap Stegall did, driving home pinch runner Tyler Smith.

Fontenot then scored with some alert base running on Ricca's single to shortstop. Fontenot never broke stride around third base and beat first baseman Blake Martin's throw home.

Those runs loomed large after Zavier Moore's RBI double cut the lead to three and had runners on second and third with two outs in the ninth. Jose Vasquez recovered to strike out Courtland Simoneaux to seal the Demons' third straight victory.

"The game can be won in many ways," Barbier said. "It was good for us to win one tonight when it all wasn't going well for us. Getting the big double by Larson and the good base-running play from him – he's come on and been a really good contributor for us.

"Since (Stegall) has gotten in the lineup, he's gotten big hits. His big hits are homers and doubles, which is nice. He can drive the ball out of the yard and change the game quickly. Their guy was absolutely cruising and, bam, it's 1-0. That hits you as an opposing team."

Stegall (2-for-3), Ricca (2-for-4, home run, 2 RBIs), Fontenot (2-for-5) and Sam Taylor (2-for-4) all had multi-hit days for the Demons while LaPorte went 2-for-4 for Southern's lone multi-hit game.

The Demons conclude their four-game road trip with three games at Houston Baptist this weekend. The series opener is set for 2 p.m. Friday at Husky Field.