College baseball: NSU concludes home slate with busy weekend series against Incarnate Word

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Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Sports Information Director

Senior weekend series always are emotional.

Couple a senior weekend with the 25-year anniversary of Northwestern State’s 1994 Southland Conference championship team and Mother’s Day weekend and Brown-Stroud Field will be flooded with feelings.

The Northwestern State baseball team closes out its 2019 home season with a three-game Southland Conference series against Incarnate Word beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m. The series includes a 2 p.m. Saturday matchup, which will serve as Senior Day, and a 1 p.m. Sunday series finale where mothers of the Demons players will toss ceremonial first pitches.

With everything happening off the field, Northwestern State (28-19, 13-11) has plenty to play for on the diamond against the visiting Cardinals (32-16, 15-9), who sit one game out behind Southland co-leaders Sam Houston State and Southeastern Louisiana.

“You’ve got to be able to separate it,” third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “No matter who you’re playing, you’ve got to be able to separate competing on the field with everything going on off the field. Senior Day will be special. We’ve started a senior (pitcher) in every game but one. We’ve got our fair share of seniors. It’s special for the ’94 team to get together and celebrate. It will be nice to have all of that, but we have a good team coming in that we have to play well against.”

The Demons, who enter the weekend series in a tie with Stephen F. Austin for fifth place in the conference standings, have played well at home throughout the season, posting a 20-6 record within the Brown-Stroud Field confines.

“You have to take care of your home field,” Barbier said. “Us and softball have one a really good job at home this year. Hopefully, the next three games will be good for us.”

That trio of games will be challenging as Incarnate Word brings with it an offense that leads the Southland Conference in batting average at .314. That mark places the Cardinals eighth nationally.

The offense has helped propel UIW to the upper third of the conference and within striking distance of its first Southland Conference Tournament appearance.

“They’ve done a great job,” Barbier said. “They have two or three freshmen who hit near the top of the lineup. They made improvements last year and have infused some young talent that has taken over. We’ve got our hands full this weekend, but one thing about our team is we’re up for challenges. We’ve shown when a challenge presents itself, we’ll fight for it.”

Part of that fight can be attributed to the Demons’ veteran roster, which features 11 seniors.

This weekend’s series marks the final home games for pitchers Ridge Heisler, Nathan Jones, Cullen McDonald, Austin Reich, Jerry Maddox, Tyler Pigott and Jose Vasquez, infielder Sam Taylor, utility player Austin Stegall, catcher Jakob Nunez and outfielder/designated hitter J.P. Lagreco.

Ten of those 11 seniors were part of the 2018 Demons, which captured the Southland Conference Tournament championship for the first time in school history and broke a 13-year NCAA Regional drought.

Among the senior class, just Jones, McDonald and Reich spent four seasons in a Demons uniform. The other seven seniors transferred in, putting Northwestern State through a crash course in team chemistry.

“Baseball, especially at our level, is JUCO heavy,” Barbier said. “You have guys who have been here two years, and then you get someone brand new coming in to compete against you. Last year, we had a bunch of new faces who have now spent almost two years with each other. They did a great job in the locker room.

“This is going to be a neat weekend. What I always enjoy about senior day is seeing the guys who aren’t seniors and how they react and cheer for the seniors and show their appreciation for the guys who came before them and have taught them.”

Series Probables

Friday – Incarnate Word TBA at Northwestern State LHP Ridge Heisler (3-5, 3.02)

Saturday – Incarnate Word TBA at Northwestern State RHP Nathan Jones (7-2, 2.22)

Sunday – Incarnate Word TBA at Northwestern State RHP Cullen McDonald (5-1, 3.00)