Short-handed Lady Demons find strength in togetherness

It’s common talk for coaches of any sport to pinpoint depth as a key component for their squad’s success throughout a season.

The Northwestern State softball team may an exception to that norm.

The Lady Demons list just 15 players on its 2013 roster — not even enough to fill backups at every position in the field. But don’t expect to hear a peep of complaint from anyone in the program.

In fact, some girls even said having fewer numbers gave the club an advantage during the year.

“When you do have small numbers like we have, it is much easier, with girls, to get along and really buy into what we’re trying to do, and that’s to win games,” junior infielder Tara McKenney said. “From day one, we said the way we were going to be successful is playing as a team. I think we kind of took that to heart.”

Northwestern State not only took it to heart, but embraced the idea as the team’s motto from the start of the season. When the girls gathered for the opening workouts heading into the season, they each received a shirt reading, “Win as one.”

Even today, as the Lady Demons head to an NCAA regional for just the fourth time in school history, they still break each huddle by saying “Together we’re better.”

“Everybody knows they’ve got each other’s backs,” Northwestern State coach Donald Pickett said. “When somebody is not pulling their weight, they trust each other to get their minds right and to come together in the hard times. They know that nobody is giving up on them. I think that’s a huge thing with our kids keeping their confidence up.”

Whatever the cause may be, something the Lady Demons have done this season has worked.

Northwestern State racked up a 40-13 record this year and stole the Southland Conference crown in thrilling fashion Saturday with a 5-4 win against Sam Houston State.

Northwestern State was down to its final out and even final strike in the game before rallying to victory in the seventh inning off the bat of Cali Burke to propel the Lady Demons back to an NCAA regional for the first time since 2002.

“We are so happy, especially to be with this group of girls that we’ve been playing with,” Burke said. “I think we’re just really excited because we’ve never gotten a chance to do (play in a regional). We’re ready to experience the whole thing together.”

In the team’s eyes, the fireworks may not be over just yet.

The Baton Rouge Regional at LSU’s Tiger Park is a double-elimination format, similar to the SLC tournament the Lady Demons just won.

Of Northwestern State’s 13 losses this season, only two have come in back-to-back games, leading the Lady Demons to believe a 2-and-out showing won’t be acceptable come this weekend.

“We still have to do what we need to do in the first game,” sophomore catcher Cassandra Barefield said. “That extra game is there for the ‘if’ game just like this past weekend. We like to make it a little interesting here.”

Northwestern State opens play at 3 p.m. Friday against Louisiana-Lafayette, a team the Lady Demons are relatively familiar with, having played them last year in a 10-0 loss on the road.

This season, the Ragin’ Cajuns hold a 43-13 record and average more than seven runs per game. The Cajuns hit 81 home runs this season.

Northwestern State plays a contrasting style of softball, sending only 39 balls out of the park, but still feel confident that if they play the Lady Demons’ style of softball, everything else will fall into place.

“If everyone pulls for each other, there is no way that we won’t do what we are capable of doing if we stay together,” McKenney said.