HOUSTON, TX -- The swings that eluded the Northwestern State baseball team early in its season opener found their way to the Houston dugout late Friday night.
Kobe Hyland connected on the second of two late-game Cougars home runs, a two-run walk-off shot with no outs in the ninth inning, to lift Houston to a 5-3 victory against the Demons at Darryl and Lori Schroeder Field.
“Give them credit,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “They made their two swings of the bat count. We didn’t really get the big hit like they did. We did a really good job getting them out there.”
Northwestern State (0-1) did all of its offensive damage in the first three innings, scoring once each inning.
Caleb Ricca and J.P. Lagreco delivered back-to-back doubles to post a first-inning run before Austin Stegall’s double scored Peyton Davis, who had doubled to lead off the second. Sam Taylor’s third-inning sacrifice fly capped the scoring as the Demons drove Houston starter Tyler Bielamowicz from the game after 2 1-3 innings.
Houston right-hander Fred Villarreal entered and tossed 5 1-3 innings of scoreless relief to allow the Cougars to make their late-game rallies.
Villarreal’s performance was key because of the sharpness of Demons starter Ridge Heisler. A senior left-hander, Heisler held down the potent Cougars offense for five scoreless innings before an infield single started Houston’s three-run sixth inning.
Jared Triolo followed Grayson Padgett’s leadoff infield hit with a hard-hit single through the left side, ending Heisler’s day.
Joe Davis then welcomed reliever Kyle Swanson with a game-tying, three-run home run to left.
“It’s the way our game works,” Barbier said. “You’ve got to get Ridge out early because of pitch counts. They get the big blow right when Kyle comes in. Then he settled in and retired the next five I think. It was a really well-played game.”
Northwestern State left nine batters on and could not produce a multi-run inning, which allowed Hyland the chance to play the hero.
After Austin Reich (0-1) issued a leadoff walk to Lael Lockhart Jr., Hyland turned on a 3-2 pitch and drove it out to right field for the difference-making home run.
Ricca (2-for-5), Lagreco (2-for-4), Davis (2-for-4) and Stegall (2-for-4) combined for eight of the Demons’ nine hits while Padgett had the lone multi-hit game for Houston, going 2-for-4.
“I’m proud of the way we swung the bats, the way we played,” Barbier said. “We competed on the mount. They have a good offensive club. We played good defense. We outhit them. We made fewer errors. We walked the same (number of batters). Usually, when you do that, you win the game. Today, it didn’t work out.”
The series continues Saturday with a 6:30 p.m. single game. Right-hander Jerry Maddox (8-3, 1.88 in 2018) is scheduled to start for Northwestern State while right-hander Ryan Randel (5-4, 4.58) is expected to start for Houston.