NATCHITOCHES, La (NSU) - The Northwestern State baseball team is getting the hang of doubleheaders.
Playing its fifth doubleheader of the season Sunday, the Demons used strong pitching throughout and a leaping grab by freshman Hilton Brown late to sweep state rival Grambling, 11-2 and 5-4, at Brown-Stroud Field.
It was the third straight doubleheader sweep for the Demons (28-19), who improved to 20-6 at home this season.
“Anytime you play a doubleheader, it’s tough to get both ends,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “I thought the first game, we came out and played well and extended that lead late in the game. That’s what we didn’t do in the second game. We didn’t put the game out of reach like we should have. Even though it was kind of cruise control, they had a chance to win the game. We need to learn from that. When you have opportunities, you need to take advantage of them.”
The Demons took advantage of nearly every opportunity early in the opener, scoring two runs off Grambling starter Bryan Delgado (6-3) in the opening inning as Jeffrey Elkins singled and Tyler Smith started a big day with a sacrifice fly.
Those runs normally would have been enough for senior right-hander Nathan Jones (7-2), who had tossed two straight complete-game shutouts. Jones held Grambling (24-23) scoreless for 5 2-3 innings Sunday before Rafael Ramirez III connected on a two-run home run in the sixth inning.
By then, the Demons had built a 6-0 lead, plenty of cushion for Jones, who moved into fourth place on NSU’s career strikeout list (210) and fifth place in career starts (41) and innings pitched (296.0).
Jones spun his fifth straight quality start, scattering six hits in six innings, walking two and striking out seven.
“There’s always the pressure to not give up any runs,” said Jones, who ran his scoreless streak to 23 2-3 innings before Ramirez’ homer. “It’s going to happen. They can really swing it as a team. They’re one of the best hitting teams we’ve faced all year. He took a two-seam (fastball) an inch off the plate out to right-center pretty well. Hat’s off to him. They earned those runs.”
The Demons tagged Delgado for six runs (all earned) in five innings before Ryan Huntington entered in relief.
Northwestern State extended the lead in each inning off Huntington, scoring once in the sixth and seventh innings before Brown drilled a three-run home run in the eighth as part of a 3-for-5, four-RBI performance.
Extending the lead proved to be tougher in the second game as Jason Alvarez (3-3) proved to be effectively wild in a three-inning stint.
Alvarez walked five, hit a batter and surrendered three hits but limited the Demons to three runs despite Northwestern State loading the bases in the second and third innings.
Smith hammered a two-run home run in the first, his team-leading ninth of the season, after Alvarez hit Jeffrey Elkins with two outs.
Smith drove in three runs in the doubleheader, going 3-for-8 at the plate, and was equally important defensively.
He helped keep Grambling scoreless in the opener, throwing out Ramirez at second base after Ramirez ripped a ball of the right-center field wall. In the nightcap, Smith threw out the speedy Warren Laster at third base to finish a 9-5 double play that kept the Demons ahead 5-1 and loomed very large in the ninth inning.
Smith had 10 outfield assists in his sophomore season but only one entering Sunday’s doubleheader.
“We work on it in practice every day, and (assistant coach Taylor) Dugas does a great job with it,” Smith said. “I haven’t had two outfield assists in a while. It felt good to do that again.”
Smith’s plays stood taller as the ninth inning unfolded.
Jerry Maddox, who got a key strikeout to end the sixth inning in relief of Cullen McDonald (5-1), got Richard Ortiz to foul out before walking Ramirez. Kevin Whitaker’s double off the third-base bag put runners on second and third with one out.
Maddox induced a run-scoring groundout by Garrett Smith before a dropped fly ball brought in another Grambling run and Ian Bailey singled to cut the Demons’ lead to one.
Jahmoi Percival, the LSWA Co-Hitter of the Week along with Smith, was announced as a pinch hitter, and Barbier countered by bringing in left-hander Tyler Pigott.
After a wild pitch moved pinch runner Ace Felder to second, Pigott got Percival to line out hard on a 2-2 pitch to a leaping Brown at third base to preserve the win.
The Demons conclude their season-long, seven-game homestand with a three-game Southland Conference series against Incarnate Word this weekend. First pitch of the series opener is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday.
Northwestern State 11-5, Grambling 2-4