Friday, April 19, 2024

College baseball: Former Haughton star Anderson helps new NSU coach get first win

by Russell Hedges
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By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations

BATON ROUGE – Since his introductory news conference in June, first-year Northwestern State head baseball coach Chris Bertrand has steadfastly focused on an all-hands-on-deck approach to building a program.

Fittingly, it was a collective effort that delivered Bertrand his first victory as the Demon skipper – a 13-6 triumph against Northern Illinois on Thursday night at Alex Box Stadium.

“It’s not just about a win, and it’s not just about the first win,” Bertrand said. “It’s about getting a win while exhibiting the characteristics we constantly talk about. We shoved the ball in the strike zone. You can’t say enough about what Dawson Flowers and (former Haughton star) Austin Anderson did in the ballgame. We learned life lessons from last week. We’ve been preaching to our offense about stringing together quality at-bats and fighting our tails off, being competitive. We did that all night long.

“We talked about being responders. We responded from errors. We responded from homers. We responded all night long – exhibiting the characteristics of what we constantly talk to our team about. That’s why I’m proud of the win.”

At no moment more so than the fifth inning did Northwestern State (1-3) exhibit those characteristics.

The Demons built a 6-1 lead on the strength of three-run innings in the third and fourth before the Huskies (1-5) began to break through against senior right-hander Dawson Flowers, who was making the second start of his career and first since May 2022 against LSU in Baton Rouge.

Flowers worked a career-long 4 2-3 innings – starting with three scoreless – before the Huskies touched him for three runs in the fifth. With runners on second and third and the Demons up two, Bertrand called on freshman Austin Anderson (1-0), who fell behind Christian Seegers 2-1 before delivering consecutive breaking balls to fan Seegers and escape the jam.

Anderson, who earned his first career win, punctuated the jam with a scream and strut off the mound.

“We know what he can do,” Flowers said. “We’ve seen it time and time again in the bullpen and in the spring and fall. He doesn’t led his heartbeat get sped up. He’s calm, cool and collected all the time. To see him go out there and get after it was awesome.

“To hear him yell, that may have been the most I’ve heard him speak in a month.”

Four games into the 2024 season, the NSU offense is making statements daily. After averaging nine runs per game in the opening weekend, the Demons put together a season-best scoring effort while notching a season-high 19 hits.

Three of those hits came in a game-turning fifth-inning rally that followed Anderson’s pivotal strikeout.

After NIU reliever Mason Ruh retired the first two NSU hitters of the inning, Reese Lipoma singled up the middle before Rocco Gump shot a single through the right side.

Bo Willis followed with a titanic three-run home run to left to answer the Huskies’ three runs in the top of the fifth.

“Reese Lipoma’s at-bat was a turning point in the baseball game,” Bertrand said. “They had the big blow to cut it to 6-4, and they get a quick out on a groundball and a punchout. Momentum is starting to shift. Reese’s incredibly competitive at-bat to punch a single up the middle then Rocco follows it up. Then Bo Willis with the big swing.

“He’s our leader. He’s a gritty type of guy. He’s a guy who — when we talk about responsiveness, when we talk about overcoming adversity – Bo exhibits Demon baseball characteristics. I’m proud of him for the hot start, but Bo is a guy we can lean on to do things the right way – to do things the Demon way.”

Willis tied a career high with four hits and drove in four runs – his fourth straight multi-RBI game. A senior from Magnolia, Texas, Willis has driven in 10 runs in NSU’s first four games of the season while recording his fourth straight multi-hit game.

A season ago, Willis drove in 24 runs while appearing in 40 games.

“I’ve been here with (Bertrand) for three years, and we love to see him in the position he’s in,” Willis said. “To see him get his first win, it’s great to be part of. If I were to go back, I wouldn’t change anything about last season, because if I didn’t have that season, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. That’s part of me. That’s part of my past.”

Northern Illinois again cut into NSU’s lead when Colin Summerhill connected on his second home run of the game – a two-run shot in the seventh inning – but again the Demons had a response.

After Willis led off the eighth with a single, Clay Jung doubled him home before Braden Benton smacked a two-run home run to left. Two batters later, Samuel Stephenson connected on a solo home run – the first of his NSU career.

Jung (3-for-4). Stephenson (2-for-2), Lipoma (2-for-6), Cole Hill (2-for-5) and Gump (2-for-4) all joined Willis (4-for-5) in pacing the Demons’ season-high 19-hit attack.

NSU returns to action Friday when it faces Stony Brook at 10 a.m. and Northern Illinois at 6 p.m. The Demons will send right-hander Chase Prestwich (0-1, 27.00) to the mound against Stony Brook while Bryce Leonard (0-0, 9.00) will start against the Huskies.

Northwestern State 13, Northern Illinois 6

NIU       000 130 200 – 6 10 1

NSU     003 330 04x – 13 19 1

W – Austin Anderson (1-0). L – Adam Brouwer (0-2). 2B – NIU, Charlie Parcell, Jake Nelson. NSU, Clay Jung, Cole Hill. 3B – NSU, Balin Valentine. HR – NIU, Colin Summerhill 2 (4). NSU, Bo Willis (1), Braden Benton (2), Samuel Stephenson (1). Highlights: NIU, Parcell 3-4, 2B; Summerhill 3-4, 2 HRs, 4 RBIs; Aaron Harper 2-5. NSU, Reese Lipoma 2-6, RBI; Rocco Gump 2-4; Willis 4-5, HR, 4 RBIs; Jung 3-4, 2B, RBI; Benton 2-5, HR, 3 RBIs; Stephenson 2-2, HR, RBI; Hill 2-5, 2B.

Records: Northern Illinois 1-5; Northwestern State 1-3.  

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