By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
Once is a nice surprise, twice in a row maybe a happy coincidence. Three straight? That’s more than respectable, it’s remarkable for David, vs. Goliath.
With its 4-2 win Friday night on very neutral ground – the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Field in Arlington – the Northwestern State baseball team topped the Oklahoma Sooners. Worth noting, yes. A fluke? Not hardly.
Especially when you consider it was the third straight Power 5 win for the Demons of coach Bobby Barbier. They beat LSU in Baton Rouge last year, denying Paul Maineiri his 1,500th career win in his final home game as the Tigers’ coach, and put down the top 10-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville in 2019.
OU, LSU and Arkansas have decimal-point budgets. The Demons get by on decimals, mostly.
There’s a huge difference in resources when Barbier and his boys line up against a brand-name foe, but between the foul lines, you can’t tell it.
It was three years ago in Corvallis, Ore., that LSU had to pull off a miraculous ninth-inning rally to escape the Demons’ guillotine in the NCAA Regionals. That came one day after Northwestern blanked one of the top 40 winningest programs in college baseball this century, San Diego State. In its opener, NSU played eventual College World Series champ Oregon State more competitively than LSU did twice afterward in that regional.
Barbier was an Academic All-America first baseman and a first-team All-Southland pick a year later in 2005, when he helped Mitch Gaspard’s Demons reach the Baton Rouge Regional. He began his coaching career for Gaspard, first at NSU and then at Alabama when Gaspard succeeded another former NSU coach, Jim Wells, when the Bossier City native retired after 13 seasons steering the Crimson Tide.
With a 192-89 record from 1990-94 at his alma mater, assisted at times by both Gaspard and current Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, Wells jumpstarted an amazing run of nine Southland Conference titles in 17 seasons (1991-2005) by the Demons. Contributing to that were current Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn (106-65 from 1995-97), current Mississippi State AD and former head coach John Cohen (146-84 from 1998-2001) and Gaspard (210-138 from 2002-07).
Barbier came back to Natchitoches as pitching coach for Lane Burroughs in 2015-16, when the Demons surged to a 40-18 Southland mark in two seasons, a span good enough for Louisiana Tech to tap Burroughs as its head coach. That’s worked out pretty well. So has the in-house promotion of Barbier.
Along with his team’s repeated dents inflicted on Power 5s, and the 2018 Corvallis Regional trip earned by the Demons’s first-ever Southland Tournament title, Barbier and his associate head coach, Chris Bertrand, have a salty collection of credentials.
Since 2018, NSU has had six MLB Draft picks, including the Southland’s highest in 2018, 2019 and 2020. The Demons have had an All-American in 2020 (rising Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Logan Hofmann), and Freshmen All-Americans Johnathan Harmon (2020) and Dante Stuart (2021).
Most impressively, Barbier’s bunch has posted the Southland’s top winning percentage since 2018, better even than the perennially strong Southeastern Louisiana Lions. They own wins in three of their last four against Burroughs and the Bulldogs, and have captured their last two against LSU.
NSU nearly won the series against the Sooners Saturday night, falling 2-1 in Arlington at Globe Life Park. Sunday evening, Oklahoma got a shutdown pitching outing and chipped away for a 5-1 victory.
Not anyone in the Demon dugout was proud. But going toe-to-toe with the Sooners in a three-game series signals Barbier’s Battlers are capable of big things again this spring.
Photo: by PATRICK NETHERTON
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