For the Northwestern State baseball team, Sundays have been for the freshmen.
First-year players again took center stage for the Demons on Sunday afternoon as Northwestern State completed a four-game sweep of North Alabama with an 8-3 win at Brown-Stroud Field.
“It was a good team win,” fourth-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. “We’re not a finished product by a long shot. There are still some things we have to clean up, but it’s hard to win four games in a weekend. It’s really tough, but I was glad to see us come out and compete.”
A pair of freshman started things quickly for the Demons (6-1), who won their fifth straight game.
Right-hander Johnathan Harmon (1-0) needed just five pitches in a scoreless first inning, using a double-play ball to work around a one-out error, to face the minimum.
From there, the top of the Northwestern State lineup took over.
Leading off for the second straight game, freshman second baseman Daunte Stuart drew a walk, starting an avalanche of good at-bats from the Demons in a three-run first inning.
Stuart’s walk was the first of three straight issued by Lions starter Keegan Foge (0-2) to open the game. With the bases loaded, Lenni Kunert smoked a two-run single to right-center to open the scoring.
Foge lasted 1-3 of an inning, giving up three runs on four walks and a pair of hits.
Marshall Skinner added an RBI single in the opening frame, extending his career-long hitting streak to 12 games dating to 2019. After not scoring a first-inning run in the first five games of the season, the Demons posted back-to-back three-run firsts against North Alabama (1-7).
“We had six good at-bats in a row,” Barbier said. “They walked the first three hitters, but it wasn’t just four-pitch walks. We had walks where we battled and fought with two strikes to draw some walks, and we got some hits. We did a really good job at the plate, especially early.
“In the fourth game of the weekend, if you get the starter out in the first, normally it means good things to come later in the game.”
Harmon didn’t need much help as he continued the roll the Demons’ pitchers have found themselves on to start the season.
A 6-foot-5 freshman from Hornbeck, Harmon scattered three hits and allowed one run in six innings. He retired the final nine batters he faced and bounced back after issuing three walks in the third inning before starting a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
“We forget sometimes that he’s still a freshman,” Barbier said. “He ran into a little trouble and needed to find that intent again. I think he found it in the last couple of innings.”
Meanwhile, Stuart sparked the lineup from the leadoff spot, going 2-for-4, reaching base four times and scoring three runs.
His on-base ability put the top four hitters in the NSU order in position to go 6-for-13 with seven runs scored and five RBIs. In addition to Kunert’s two RBIs from the cleanup spot, Jeffrey Elkins drove in three from the No. 3 spot, including a two-run, opposite-field home run in the sixth inning.
Sunday marked Stuart’s second multi-hit game of the series and made him 3-for-6 with four runs scored and a pair of walks in two games as the NSU leadoff hitter.
“I got comfortable in the second game of the doubleheader (Saturday) when the coaches put me in the leadoff spot,” said Stuart, who is riding a five-game hit streak. “I had advice from Lenni telling me my job is to get on base. One he broke it down like that for me, I knew once I got on base my team would help me.
“Guys like Lenni and (Tyler) Smith have been instrumental, giving me tips like what time I should get here to work on certain things. Lenni, in the fall, really helped me stay through the ball more.”
Stuart, Kunert (2-for-3) and Hilton Brown (2-for-4) combined for six of the Demons’ nine hits in the series finale.
Northwestern State returns to action Wednesday when it makes its first road trip of the season, traveling to UL Lafayette for a 6 p.m. matchup against the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Northwestern State 8, North Alabama 3
UNA 000 100 200 – 3 5 3
NSU 310 013 00x – 8 9 2
W – Johnathan Harmon (1-0). L – Keegan Foge (0-2). HR – UNA, Devne Daniel (1). NSU, Jeffrey Elkins (1). Highlights: NSU, Daunte Stuart 2-4; Elkins HR, 3 RBIs; Lenni Kunert 2-3, 2 RBIs; Hilton Brown 2-4.
Records: North Alabama 1-7; Northwestern State 6-1.