By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
LAKE CHARLES – The Northwestern State baseball team knew it needed to record 54 outs Friday in order to reach the Southland Conference Baseball Tournament’s championship game.
The fifth-seeded Demons ultimately got 52 of them before fourth-seeded New Orleans spoiled Northwestern State’s run with a five-run ninth inning in a 7-3 elimination-game victory at Joe Miller Ballpark on Friday night.
“We did a lot of neat things this year,” seventh-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “Jeff Elkins got the career home run record. We set the team record for home runs (61) and strikeouts (469). It was neat to have a team that does that. I’ll remember them for their fight – always fighting until the last out. The ninth inning won’t define this team.”
Northwestern State (29-27) was in position to reach its first SLC Tournament title game since 2018 because of a career-best effort from junior right-hander Drayton Brown in a Friday afternoon elimination game.
Brown (6-6) delivered the first complete game of his career, eliminating McNeese on its home field, in a 6-2 Northwestern State victory.
Armed with a 2-0 lead thanks to Broch Holmes’ second home run in as many games, Brown surrendered back-to-back third-inning doubles to Payton Harden and Josh Leslie that halved the lead before carving his way through the Cowboy order.
Following Leslie’s one-out double, Brown retired 14 straight McNeese hitters before Braden Duhon’s leadoff single in the eighth. A 28-pitch first inning that ended with a bases-loaded double play did not deter Brown, who needed 87 pitches to finish the final eight innings and notch his first complete game as a Demon.
“It was a little scary but (the double play) allowed me to settle in,” said Brown, who set a career high with his sixth win. “I trusted my stuff and the guys helped pick me up with the bats.”
A four-run sixth inning where the Demons took advantage of a leadoff error gave Brown some breathing room.
NSU took advantage of that error, two walks and two hit batters to post their largest offensive output of the tournament. Brown didn’t need much more help offensively as the Demons stayed alive.
“He just competes for us,” Barbier said. “When it got hairy in the first inning, I had faith in him that he will gut it out. Sometimes they get a hit and sometimes they don’t. They rolled a double-play ball. He competed hard. It was his first complete game of his career, and what a special time to do it.”
While Brown pitched the Demons into a second elimination game, a staff-wide effort had NSU within two outs of playing for a conference tournament title.
Facing New Orleans (36-23) for the second straight night, the Demons held a 3-2 lead from the fourth inning, gaining the advantage on Jake Haze’s two-run home run off Privateer starter Colton Mercer.
It was Haze’s first career home run hitting right-handed, and it was the Demons’ fourth in as many tournament games.
“What a year,” Barbier said. “He played his tail off for us all year, and he got the big swing there. We kept it down for a while. We had to use (Kyle) Fro(ehlich), who usually closes for us, in the middle. (Andrew) Coss(io) was really good for us and got a couple of really good hitters out (in the eighth). We just couldn’t finish it.”
The Demons did not extend the lead against Collin Horton, who allowed only one walk in 3 2-3 innings of shutout relief to improve to 3-4 on the season.
Once the Privateers solved Cossio (0-1), who stranded two inherited runners in the eighth to keep the Demons ahead by one, the floodgates opened.
Issac Williams’ game-tying, one-out double was the first of three run-scoring hits that gave New Orleans a lead it did not relinquish in the ninth.
“You’ve got to give them a lot of credit,” Barbier said. “(New Orleans coach) Blake (Dean) has done a really good job of preparing that offense. They’ve got left-handed hitters. They’ve got power. They can run a little bit. It’s a good offense – one we did a pretty good job of keeping down for eight and a third.”
— Featured photo by Leighton Chamblee, McNeese State Athletics