NATCHITOCHES – Smaller-than-normal signing classes in the fall and spring meant one thing for Northwestern State baseball – it had to pick up the pace in the summer.
First-year head coach Bobby Barbier and recruiting coordinator G.T. McCullough did just that, securing seven signatures for the 2017 season.
One of those was Airline’s Cameron Taylor, whose decision to continue his career at NSU was reported in The Press-Tribune last month.
“There are opportunities to sign guys late here,” Barbier said. “Some really good players who mature later in their career. We have that with this class. We’ve got some depth in the infield. We lost some guys on the mound, and we definitely needed some depth in that bullpen along with guys who can compete for starting spots. This class definitely accomplished that.”
Joining the Demons in the fall are four Louisiana high school signees and a trio of junior college players.
The Pelican State products are Lafayette High School teammates first baseman Hudson Laborde and right-handed pitcher/outfielder Emile Lege, Teurlings Catholic infielder Chaney Dodge and Taylor.
Taylor could find a home as a two-way player for the Demons.
Taylor was the District 1-5A MVP as a sophomore and the Pitcher of the Year last season. He helped Airline win three straight district championships. He was a three-time All-Parish selection by The Press-Tribune. an all-city pick by The (Shreveport) Times and an honorable mention All-State selection.
Taylor joins Airline teammate Peyton Davis as Demons signees. Davis signed with NSU in the spring.
“He is an all-around ballplayer,” McCullough said. “He’s a name you’ve heard for years. He will be able to help us as a two-way player. As a pitcher, he’s in the mix to help us right off the bat. He’s right in the mix with our outfielders. He’s a hard-nosed player and a winner, and you can never have too many winners in your program.”
NSU’s JUCO haul includes a pair of Pearl River (Miss.) teammates catcher/first baseman Carter Hankins and pitcher John Carter Sanner and Eastern Oklahoma State catcher Hunter Uzzle.
Dodge, Laborde and Lege form a decorated Acadiana-area trio of Demons.
Dodge was an integral part of Teurlings’ state championship team, earning first-team all-state and first-team all-district honors. He started all 39 games for the Rebels at third base, batting .347 with a .508 on-base percentage. Dodge scored 30 runs and drove in 28 while stealing 11 bases in 14 tries.
“Chaney fits our mold for sure,” Barbier said. “I got to see (Dodge) at the state tournament. He looks like one of our players. He’s strong, tough, a grinder who really works an at-bat. He’s a good athlete. He can run and plays well at third base. We’re really fortunate he was available this late in the process.”
A few miles from Dodge, teammates Laborde and Lege decided to keep that label and both sign with the Demons.
Lege enjoyed success on the mound (45 strikeouts in 44 innings) and at the plate (.356, 4 HR, 28 RBIs) for the Mighty Lions, earning first-team all-Acadiana, first-tem, all-district and all-metro honors. He was a member of the all-tournament team at the WWBA Championships in Atlanta and was a 2015 Perfect Game Super 25 national champion.
“With Emile, you get a power right-handed arm,” Barbier said. “It’s tough for us to get guys with arm strength, and he really has good arm strength along with being a really good athlete. He’s a left-handed hitter who can also play the outfield and really run.”
While Lege worked on the mound and in the outfield, Laborde anchored first base for Lafayette High during an all-state senior season.
Laborde batted .467 and slugged .867, connecting for 10 doubles and eight home runs while driving in 35 runs. He added a .566 on-base percentage.
In addition to his all-state nod, he was a first-team all-district and all-Acadiana honors. As a junior, Laborde was a second-team all-district utility selection.
“Hudson is a guy who has the potential to hit for a lot of power,” Barbier said. “He had a tremendous senior year. He came on strong there at the end. Coach (Sam) Taulli, their coach, and I talk all the time about players, and he loved these two guys.”
Sanner is a right-hander who comes from the same high school as former Demon Cort Brinson.
After winning two state championships at Oak Grove (Miss.) High School, Sanner one of Pearl River’s top returning pitchers in 2016.
At Oak Grove, Sanner was named first-team all-state as a senior, twice named all-district and participated in the 2014 Under Armour Preseason All-American Tournament.
He was a second-team all-state selection in 2016 after going 3-4 with 44 strikeouts in 51 1-3 innings pitched.
“John Carter is going to be a front-line competitor from the start,” McCullough said. “He comes from winning programs and has always been one of the better arms on any staff he has been on. He has a big frame with an upper 80s fastball, a good change and a good breaking ball. He throw strikes and expects to win every time. His competitive mentality fits our program perfectly.”
Hankins spent time behind the plate catching Sanner and at first base during his time at Pearl River.
He batted .348 with five home runs en route to earning second-team all-state honors from the Mississippi Association of Junior College. Hankins earned NJCAA Division II National Player of the Week honors after going 8-for-19 with 13 RBIs in a six-game stretch against Alabama Southern, Southwest Tennessee and Jackson State.
Hankins played football at Pearl River as a freshman before focusing strictly on baseball. At Forrest County Agricultural High School, Hankins was a two-sport standout who earned all-state acclaim in football and baseball.
“He’s a middle-of-the-order presence in the box,” McCullough said. “He can really swing the bat. He is the perfect example of a ‘program player.’ He’s a coach’s son. He really knows the game. He came into Pearl River as a two-sport guy, a quarterback and a baseball player, so there are built-in leadership qualities right there. He’s going to push everyone to become better.”
Uzzle was part of an NJCAA Region 2 championship team at Eastern Oklahoma State, batting .309 with three home runs and 45 RBIs. An athletic, switch-hitting catcher, Uzzle led the conference with 18 doubles, ranking third nationally.
A two-sport standout at Bridge City (Texas) High School, Uzzle was a second-team all-state selection as a senior and part of the Beaumont Enterprise Super Gold Team and the district MVP. As a junior, he was a first-team all-district selection.
“With Daniel (Garner) signing, we had to fill his spot,” Barbier said. “We trust so much in (junior catcher) Kelsey (Richard), but you need two guys, you really do. Hunter’s kind of the same mold as Chaney. He’s a little undersized, but he really runs the game behind the plate.
“He has tons of energy. That’s the first thing I noticed about him, on and off the field. He’s a high-energy guy behind the plate who brings it to the whole team.”
— Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Sports Information