Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Sports Information Director
NATCHITOCHES – In front of the largest Brown-Stroud Field in 18 years, a senior took the Northwestern State baseball team to the precipice of its first win against LSU since 2011.
And a freshman brought it home.
Jeffrey Elkins’ two-run, sixth-inning double snapped a tie and gave the Demons a 3-1 victory against the No. 11/13 Tigers in front of a boisterous crowd of 3,240, the second-largest gathering in Brown-Stroud history.
“I was up in the count 3-1 and sitting on a fastball,” said Elkins, who hooked the go-ahead hit into left field as part of Northwestern State’s decisive three-run sixth inning. “I got it. I was early, and I did what I needed to. I knew we had two outs and bases loaded. I had to get the job done. I wanted to help them out for what happened last year.”
Until Jakob Nunez started the sixth with an infield single to third base, LSU (11-5) had quieted Northwestern State’s bats behind right-handers Landon Marceaux (three perfect innings) and Ma’Khail Hilliard (two one-hit innings).
Nunez’ roller to third against Aaron George (2-1) seemed to loosen up the Demons offense. Sam Taylor followed with a clean single to left and Caleb Ricca walked to load the bases with nobody out.
After reliever Matthew Beck retired the next two Demons on a strikeout and an infield fly, Elkins delivered another key base hit. Elkins’ fourth double and sixth extra-base hit in his first 11 career games gave him his sixth and seventh RBIs of the year and propelled NSU (8-6) to its first win against LSU since a 5-2 win in Baton Rouge on April 12, 2011.
“He’s a supremely talented player, who’s going to be a really good player for us,” Barbier said. “When it got to the 3-1 count, I was hoping they would throw him a fastball. He got the head out and got the big knock for us.”
In addition to notching their first win against LSU since 2011, the Demons exorcised some painful memories from a year ago. Twice in the final 19 days of the season, Northwestern State dropped 9-5 decisions to the Tigers, including in an elimination game at the NCAA Corvallis Regional.
McDonald put those to rest early and often Tuesday night.
A senior right-hander, McDonald allowed the first two Tigers to reach and fell behind 1-0 when Chris Reid dribbled an RBI grounder to first base with one out in the first.
From there, McDonald cruised through the next 6 2-3 innings, leaving after 7 2-3 innings of one-run ball. Throwing 126 pitches (77 for strikes), McDonald scattered five hits and struck out five, allowing his offense time to strike against the LSU bullpen.
“We had to get something to get us going on the right track,” said McDonald, who improved to 2-0 and has thrown quality starts in all three of his starts this season. “After the seventh, (Barbier) told me I had the nine-hole guy (Hal) Hughes, if I could get him out. I did, but I walked the leadoff guy (Josh Smith).”
McDonald left to a standing ovation with runners on first and second base and two outs. Tyler Pigott relieved McDonald and after walking Chris Reid, got Daniel Cabrera on a slow roller to Ricca at shortstop.
Ricca charged hard and threw a strike to nip Cabrera by a half a step and preserve the Demons’ tenuous lead.
Pigott cruised through an uneventful ninth inning, setting the Tigers down in order as Elkins gloved Brock Mathis’ routine fly ball to left field to set off a wild celebration for the Demons and their crowd.
“Caleb has played good defense for us all year,” Barbier said. “You get spoiled watching good players perform their craft. That ball coming in, he’s improved so much since his freshman year, because he works at it.
“What an outing by Cullen McDonald. He had a little scuffle in the first, but he kept the game where it needed to be for us to win it. If they get two, three, four runs, with the way they executed pitches – those are two weekend starters at some point in their careers (Marceaux and Hilliard) – you’ve got to match them. Cullen did that. When you have seasons like last year, it gives you opportunities to play in big games and become comfortable playing in big games. When it didn’t go our way early, we didn’t panic. A lot of that was because of Cullen.”