Thursday, April 18, 2024

College baseball: Former Haughton star Rains’ homer helps NSU defeat McNeese, win SLC series

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

Former Haughton star Colin Rains had two hits, including a two-run home run, to help Northwestern State defeat McNeese State 10-4 Saturday in Lake Charles.

The victory enabled the Demons to win the Southland Conference series 2-1. It was their first of the season.

Rains’ home run came in the second inning after an error allowed Balin Valentine to reach.

“It was a slider he hung, and it was right in my zone,” said Rains, a freshman right fielder who had another go-ahead hit in the sixth inning and finished with a career-high three RBIs.

First-year NSU head coach Chris Bertrand has talked multiple times about winning games by whatever means necessary, even if it includes using nearly every possible player on his roster.

That approach – as well as a late offensive awakening – lifted the Demons to the victory.

“A win like today and a series win like the last two days are extremely crucial to the growth and development of our program because we exhibited all the characteristics we have been talking about,” Bertrand said. “We talked about being responders, and all weekend the guys had responses to all the adversity we did face. All weekend, we had different guys step up. All weekend the guys did a wonderful job of focusing and concentrating on playing clean baseball. We played complementary baseball in the last two days – all the things we have been talking about and all of the lessons we have learned through the first 28 games, we put to use in the last two days.”

Northwestern State (9-19, 3-3) took some time to build on its thrilling 6-2 win from Friday in which the Demons scored five runs in the top of the ninth to grab the win.

Part of that was because of the effectiveness of McNeese left-hander Alexis Gravel, who struck out 10 batters in five one-hit innings, allowing two runs (one earned).

The one hit was Rains’ home run.

With the wind blowing out to left on another offensive day at Joe Miller Ballpark, Northwestern State right-hander Dawson Flowers kept the Demons in the game with six strong innings, allowing four runs (three earned).

The final two came on Chase Keeton’s go-ahead home run in the sixth inning that gave the Cowboys a 4-3 lead.

Much like Friday’s game, in which the Cowboys (13-12, 1-2) took an eighth-inning lead only to see it slip away in the ninth, the Demons struck right back as Reese Lipoma scored on a throwing error after his one-out double.

While the Demon left the bases loaded in the seventh, NSU reliever Dylan Marionneaux (2-4) did the same in the bottom of the seventh, inducing a pop out and a flyout to escape the jam.

From there, Northwestern State began to use every player at its disposal to swing the game in its favor.

Braden Benton, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning, started the go-ahead rally with a leadoff double off reliever Ty Abraham (1-20 in the eighth and took third when Former Parkway star Hayden Knotts laid down a two-strike sacrifice bunt.

Pinch hitter Clay Jung followed with a hard grounder to a drawn-in Peyton LeJeune at second. LeJeune’s throw home was high, allowing pinch runner Bryce Leonard to score the go-ahead run. Four batters later, Rocco Gump’s third straight single brought home two runs and gave the Demons some breathing room.

Gump’s two-run single came against Kanin Morrow, who had earned an eight-out save in Thursday’s series opener.

“I was in an advantage count, so I had a pretty good idea a fastball was coming,” said Gump, who had three of NSU’s 10 hits. “It did, and it was over the plate. I got a good swing off on it and was able to help my team win.’

After Marionneaux stranded two more Cowboys in the eighth, the Demons executed the fundamentals to cash in a two-run Lipoma single in the ninth.

Leonard was hit by a pitch leading off the inning before Knotts floated a single to shallow left. JD DiPrima’s sacrifice bunt moved the runners over before Lipoma chopped his two-run single back up the middle.

“JD, what an incredible job coming in and laying that bunt down and catching two unbelievable innings,” Bertrand said of the sophomore from Omaha, who made his NSU debut Saturday. “Hat’s off to JD for continuing to work and continuing to be tough. We needed him today, being short-handed with the catching situations. Another guy who stepped up. Dylan Marionneaux stepping up. We mixed the rotation and played a short-week series, and he didn’t balk at our idea. He got the baseball and went out in attack mode and gave us three unbelievable innings for us to be able to feel these feelings.”

The Demons return to action Tuesday when they travel to face Grambling. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Wilbert Ellis Field at RWE Jones Park.

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