SUGAR LAND, Tx. (NSU) - The late-inning magic that characterized Northwestern State’s first Southland Conference Baseball Tournament championship a year ago never materialized in the 2019 event.
The seventh-seeded Demons fell into a mid-game hole against No. 3 seed Southeastern Louisiana in Thursday morning’s elimination game and were unable to fully climb out of the deficit, falling 6-4 to the Lions at Constellation Field.
“I thought we played hard, and for some reason, the last two days it didn’t really go our way,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “I’m proud of this team. This team went through a lot this year, and they fought through a lot of adversity. We’ve got some seniors on this team, and some other guys, that really helped turn this thing back around last year and had a good season this year but came up a little short.”
In a matchup of teams that suffered shutout losses in Wednesday’s opening round, the Demons (30-25) put up the first crooked number, scoring two runs in the third inning.
Senior Sam Taylor’s RBI double tied the game at 1 before Caleb Ricca singled home Taylor to give Northwestern State its first lead of the tournament.
The lead turned out to be short-lived as the Lions (31-26) answered with an unearned run in the fourth to tie the game against Ridge Heisler (4-6). Conner Manola’s squeeze bunt with one out came after the Demons were unable to cleanly field a potential double-play grounder that would have ended the inning.
Armed with that momentum, Southeastern Louisiana methodically pieced together a four-run fifth inning that proved to be the difference.
RBI singles by Nathan Pilutti and Brennan Breaud gave the Lions a two-run lead before Trey Harrington drilled a two-run double to the right field through a hard wind to make it a four-run game.
Down by four, the Demons mounted a couple of late rallies, scoring a sixth-inning run on Austin Stegall’s sacrifice fly and pulling within two on J.P. Lagreco’s two-out RBI single in the seventh.
However, Southeastern Louisiana closer Jared Biddy came in to record the final out of the seventh before working a scoreless eighth inning.
Thanks to some strong relief work by Tyler Pigott and Austin Reich – along with Tyler Smith’s fourth outfield assist of the season – the Demons stayed within striking distance.
Sam Taylor’s leadoff walk in the ninth brought Ricca to the plate as the tying run, but Biddy induced a grounder that kicked off the mound directly to Lions shortstop Cody Grosse, who stepped on second base and turned a double play. Biddy then retired Jeffrey Elkins on a comebacker to end the game.
Taylor and Ricca each had two of Northwestern State’s nine hits while Pilutti and Harrington each had two of Southeastern’s nine hits.
“It’s the way the game goes,” Barbier said. “We just fell a little bit short today. We’ve done a good job of building a core group of guys who can keep this thing going year in and year out. We’ll regroup and get back to work.”
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