By Bud Denega, Sports Information Graduate Assistant
NATCHITOCHES — Take five, and no that’s not referring to the candy bar or a short hiatus during the production of a movie. Take five is referring to the fifth take on the Northwestern State softball team’s season opener.
NSU is slated to host Grambling on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Lady Demon Diamond. There’s a possibility that the two could play a doubleheader, beginning at 5 p.m. Whatever the case may be, it’s the fifth different season-opening opponent that has appeared on the Lady Demons’ schedule.
“We are just so anxious to get out on the field, and it just seems like we are hitting a road block every single time,” head coach Donald Pickett said. “Losing 11 ball games to begin the year, I’ve never experienced that. Usually you may lose three or four games all year, max. This year it has been wild with all the weather we’ve had the last couple of weeks.”
The Lady Demons were originally supposed to commence the year at the Lady Demon Classic against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Health and weather concerns transformed the Lady Demon Classic into a three-game home series against Tarleton State. That was soon canceled because to travel concerns due to inclement weather.
NSU was slated to travel to Waco, Texas, this past weekend for the Baylor Getterman Classic, but that was called off because of adverse weather in the region. That was replaced with a doubleheader at ULM, which couldn’t happen because of field conditions.
With all that in the rearview mirror, the Lady Demons are trying to stay focused on what lies ahead.
“I think every one is frustrated,” Pickett said. “We were so excited to finally play our season, then stuff happens that we can’t control. (The team) is still going about working and doing the right things every day, so they’ll be ready to go when we finally do get out here and get going.”
The Lady Demons are coming off an abbreviated 2020 season that saw them finish at 15-7 overall and 3-0 in Southland Conference play. NSU finished off a sweep of Sam Houston before the season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Northwestern State returns nearly everyone from a season ago. Each of its top-five hitters — senior outfielders Hayley Barbazon, Kaitlyn St. Clair and Elise Vincent along with junior designated player Jensen Howell and freshman infielder Kat Marshall — had a cumulative batting average of .333 in 2020.
It’s a similar story in the circle for NSU. All four players who recorded a pitch in 2020 come back.
That distinguished group is led by Howell who made 12 appearances, 10 starts, compiling a record of 8-3 with a 1.88 ERA and 71 strikeouts. Senior Samantha Guile, sophomore Bronte Rhoden and junior E.C. Delafield round out the returning staff.
Those aforementioned players don’t include junior second baseman Cayla Jones and sophomore catcher Alexis Perry who both made the preseason All-Southland team — along with Barbazon, Delafield and Vincent. The veteran-loaded roster combined with the young talent has the Lady Demons eyeing a top-tier finish in the Southland Conference.
“This team has a lot of good qualities about it and has a lot of positives going for it,” Pickett said. “We have to get out on the field and see where we are and move forward each and every day.”
The Tigers went 3-15 in their shortened 2020 season. India Wells returns after leading Grambling offensively last season, boasting a batting average of .300 with two RBIs. Trya Triplett and Fayth McQueary also come back following a season that saw them hit .297 and .231, respectively.
Payton Shells leads the Tigers in the circle, as she logged a 3.89 ERA in 27 innings pitched with 10 strikeouts last season. Ja’Lynn Bonner returns, and she tossed 31 innings in 2020 with 12 strikeouts.
NSU and Grambling battle one another most years. The Lady Demons own the upper hand, laying claim to a 29-3 all-time record against the Tigers, however, Pickett knows this matchup won’t be easy.
“Familiarity definitely makes everything tougher,” Pickett said. “When you’re playing someone you’re familiar with, they know your strengths, you know theirs. Whoever executes the best will come out on top.”
Following the game against Grambling, Northwestern State will travel to Mobile, Alabama, for the Jaguar Classic. The Lady Demons will open the tournament against SIU-Edwardsville on Friday at 10 a.m. The field also Middle Tennessee, Missouri and South Alabama.