AUSTIN, TX -- The Northwestern State softball team did a lot of waiting Friday, weathering more than three hours of sleet delays and then waiting on its offense to catch on to Boise State pitcher Gianna Mancha.
It all paid off when junior Kaitlyn St. Clair delivered a walk-off RBI into right field, scoring junior Hayley Barbazon to lift NSU to a 3-2 win in the season opener in the Texas Classic. Boise State was receiving votes in the NFCA/ESPN preseason polls, NSU’s first win against such a team since topping Mississippi State in 2016.
“I was really confident that this offense could get it done, that we had the heart and fight to do it,” said St. Clair, who was playing just two hours away from her native Cypress, Texas. “I had a little chip on my shoulder when they (intentionally walked Cayla Jones), but I was confident I could get it done for the team.
“I thought the pitch was outside, and I knew if I could get it through the infield, it would score a run. It was pretty cold (low 30s), but the sleet and the wind made it really cold.”
Trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, sophomore Codi Vernace (1-for-2) drew a lead-off walk before Barbazon ripped a two-out double to tie the game for NSU (1-0).
Mancha (0-1), who walked six Lady Demons to pair with five hits allowed, intentionally walked Jones before St. Clair produced her first career walk-off.
“St. Clair is a good hitter, and she’s there to protect Jones,” said NSU coach Donald Pickett. “Kaitlyn had hit the ball hard the time before, and we felt confident she would give us a quality at-bat, and she hit a line drive.
“(Vernace) hit the ball hard all game, and even though Barabazon struggled in her first couple of at-bats, she hit it on the screws when we had to have it. Our offense did a great job having quality at-bats except in the middle innings, and this was just a really good team win.”
NSU’s pitching combination of sophomore E.C. Delafield and freshman Bronte Rhoden held a powerful Broncos (1-1) offense relatively in check after BSU led the nation in multiple offensive categories this past season.
Rhoden (1-0) earned her first career win by pitching four scoreless relief innings with just one hit and no walks.
Boise State stretched its lead to 2-0 in the fourth inning and had a runner on second base, but Rhoden recorded three outs to end the threat and allowed just a fifth-inning single since.
Delafield worked around two early defensive mistakes in the first two innings to hold Boise State to just one run (Ashlyn Adams RBI groundout in the first inning).
“I’m proud of our pitchers’ performances, especially no walks because that gives you a chance,” Pickett said. “Bronte went in there and shut the door in the fourth inning, and we made good defensive plays behind her after struggling early.
“Delafield battled early and limited some damage. Jones, Riley Cantrell and Maggie Black all made good defensive plays, and we needed all phases of the game in a team win like this.”
Delafield worked around a second-inning error and a pair of third-inning singles before the Broncos struck for the fourth-inning run. Jessica McKay doubled and Alison Seng singled her in for the 2-0 edge.
NSU’s offense put Black in scoring position after a walk and a steal, but the Lady Demons scratched the scoreboard in the fourth inning to cut BSU’s lead to 2-1.
After Cantrell (1-for-2) and Hawthorne (1-for-2) drew walks, Vernace (1-for-2) doubled to the right-field gap to score Cantrell.
NSU tallied five hits to pair with its six walks, stranding five runners.
The Texas Classic has changed because of Friday’s weather, pushing NSU’s contest to a doubleheader against No. 16 Texas at 3:30 p.m. and Boston College at 6 p.m.