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2020 Southland Conference Baseball Season Begins Friday

first_img2020 Southland Conference Baseball Week One Notes (PDF)FRISCO, Texas – The 57th season of Southland Conference baseball gets underway with 15 games Friday, beginning with a 1 p.m. CT first pitch between Houston Baptist and No. 3 Texas Tech. First Game: vs. Grambling, Feb. 14, 6:30 p.m. First Game: at UT Arlington, Feb. 14, 6:30 p.m. McNeese Cowboys – Preseason Ranking: 3 – 2019 Record: 35-26 (16-14 SLC)The No. 3 team in the preseason poll is coming off a milestone year that saw the Cowboys win their first Southland Conference tournament title since 2003. McNeese was named the No. 3 seed in the Nashville Regional, hosted by eventual College World Series champion Vanderbilt. The Cowboys look to repeat history with the help of a league-leading five preseason all-conference picks. Among them are a pair of returning Southland Conference All-Tournament team members in Jake Dickerson and Nate Fisbeck, who was also recognized as a Preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball. Nicholls Colonels – Preseason Ranking: 8 – 2019 Record: 27-28 (13-17 SLC)A year after the Colonels were absent from the Southland Conference Tournament, they enter 2020 predicted to take the final spot at No. 8. Head coach Seth Thibodeaux welcomes the return of 22 letterman from last year’s squad, including Second Team Preseason-All Southland catcher Chris Sandberg. The senior from Los Angeles caught 15 runners stealing in 2019, which was good for fourth in the conference, and hit .267 while driving in 17 runs at the plate. Nicholls faces an early test when it hosts No. 11 LSU on Feb. 19 at Ray E. Didier Field. Central Arkansas Bears – Preseason Ranking: 2 – 2019 Record: 33-27 (19-11 SLC)The Bears posted their third-straight 30-win season in 2019 and enter 2020 picked to finish second, both of which are firsts since joining the Southland in 2007.  UCA made the most of their eighth-consecutive Southland Conference tournament appearance last year, earning the No. 2 seed and advancing to the title game, where the squad fell to McNeese 4-2. The Bears tied with the Cowboys for the most representatives on the preseason all-conference teams with five, including first-teamers Beau Orlando, Noah Cameron and Conner Williams. UCA’s non-conference slate is highlighted by a midweek showdown with defending national champion Vanderbilt at 4:30 p.m. on March 3. Abilene Christian Wildcats – Preseason Ranking: 10 – 2019 Record: 26-26 (13-17 SLC)The first season under first-year head coach Rick McCarty may have not produced a conference tournament berth, but it was certainly a successful campaign as the Wildcats recorded an eight-game swing in conference play from 2018. Despite bringing in 32 newcomers, Abilene Christian looks to continue that momentum in 2020. Another crucial addition by McCarty comes in the announcement that the Wildcats will be one of 60 institutions – and the lone Southland school – to institute a Trackman unit at their home field. ACU’s slate features 13 games against 2019 NCAA Tournament participants (TCU, UC-Santa Barbara, Texas A&M, Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech and McNeese). First Game: vs. SIU-Edwardsville, Feb. 14, 2 p.m. First Game: vs. Rhode Island, Feb. 14, 6 p.m. The 2020 Southland Conference Baseball Tournament will return to Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, Texas, May 20-23. The home facility of the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Texas League affiliate of the American League Champion Houston Astros, will serve as host of the event for the first time since the 2009-10 seasons. Houston Baptist Huskies – Preseason Ranking: 13 – 2019 Record: 18-35 (10-20 SLC)After appearing in the Southland Conference Tournament in three of the previous four years, the Huskies fell short in 2019 and enter 2020 picked to finish No. 13. HBU landed a pair of seniors on the preseason all-conference first team in starting pitcher Kyle Gruller and outfielder Brandon Bena. Gruller ranked third in the league in ERA (2.18) and opponents’ batting average (.207), and seventh in strikeouts (85). Bena hit .313 with five home runs, 12 doubles, 36 RBIs and 34 runs. The Omaha, Nebraska, native also added three outfield assists and did not make an error in 113 chances. The Huskies will be challenged early with two showdowns against No. 3 Texas Tech in the opening weekend. New Orleans Privateers – Preseason Ranking: 9 – 2019 Record: 29-26 (13-17 SLC)Despite going 8-4 down the stretch of last season, the Privateers fell one game shy of qualifying for the Southland Conference Tournament for the first time since 2015. UNO welcomes seven returning starters in the field and five members of the pitching staff, including weekend starters Chris Turpin and Brandon Mitchell. A Third-Team All-Southland honoree in 2019, Gaige Howard returns to the lineup after leading the team in batting average (.330) and on-base percentage (.432). The Privateers open a four-game stretch away from home to end the season with their non-conference finale against No. 11 LSU on May 12. First Game: vs. Mississippi Valley State, Feb. 14, 6 p.m. Lamar Cardinals – Preseason Ranking: 12 – 2019 Record: 18-36 (9-21 SLC)Despite placing three on the preseason all-conference squads and returning 672 starts in 2020, Lamar was picked to finish No. 12 in the preseason poll. However, this may come as a good omen as three teams predicted to end up in the 12th slot have gone on to make the Southland Conference Tournament three times in the last decade, including last year’s Stephen F. Austin team. All three preseason all-league picks star in the infield for the Cardinals, including second-teamers Logan Berlof and Anthony Quirion, and first-teamer JC Correa, the younger brother of Houston Astros phenom Carlos Correa. JC Correa was named one of the NCAA’s Top 150 hitters (No. 126) and one of the Top 30 Second Basemen (No. 27) by D1 Baseball. Southeastern Louisiana Lions – Preseason Ranking: 4 – 2019 Record: 33-27 (19-11 SLC)The Lions are coming off a fourth-straight second-place finish in the regular season with hopes of breaking the ceiling and earning the top spot in 2020. With a lot of holes to fill, seventh-year skipper Matt Riser retooled with 13 transfers, including four from Division I institutions. SLU’s lone honoree on the preseason all-league teams is junior infielder Preston Faulkner, who slashed .273 / .360 / .488 with a team-leading 17 doubles and 11 home runs in 2019. The Lions’ 2020 slate has them playing 31 of their 57 games at Pat Kenelly Diamond, where they boast a .715 winning percentage over the last decade. UIW Cardinals – Preseason Ranking: 7 – 2019 Record: 37-22 (18-12 SLC)The Cardinals ended their conference tournament drought last season, earning the No. 4 seed at the event after manufacturing a five-game improvement from 2018 and finishing 18-12 in league play. UIW made the most of its first appearance, falling one game short of advancing to the title game. However, the Cardinals saw the departure of 2019 Southland Conference Coach of the Year Patrick Hallmark, along with two would-be returning all-conference players. First-year skipper Ryan Shotzberger brought in 17 newcomers to help fill the gaps of the five mainstays in the starting lineup and seven pitchers lost. UIW’s non-conference slate is headlined by road tilts with Lone Star State powerhouses Texas A&M, Texas and TCU. Northwestern State Demons – Preseason Ranking: 5 – 2019 Record: 30-25 (15-15 SLC)The Demons’ title-defending campaign didn’t go as planned in 2019, finishing .500 in league play and earning the No. 7 seed at the conference tournament, where they made a quick exit with two-straight losses. Two years removed from a NCAA Regional appearance, head coach Bobby Barbier looks to take his team back to the postseason with a veteran squad including 19 juniors or seniors. Among those is Second Team Preseason All-Southland selection Tyler Smith, who enters his final season in a Northwestern State uniform within striking distance of the career top 10 in games played, at-bats, RBIs and total bases. After going 22-8 at home in 2019, the Demons will play 35 at Brown-Stroud Field in 2020, including their first eight games, 11 of their first 12 matchups and their final six contests. First Game: vs. Saint Mary’s, Feb. 14, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN+) Two-time defending regular-season champion Sam Houston State, who was chosen as the preseason favorite for the third-straight season, embarks on its 2020 campaign against Saint Mary’s at 6:30 p.m. Reigning Southland Conference tournament champion McNeese opens a three-game series against Mississippi Valley State at 6 p.m. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders – Preseason Ranking: 6 – 2019 Record: 31-26 (14-16 SLC)Scott Malone, the league’s winningest active coach (315), took the Islanders back to the Southland Conference Tournament for the first time in four years and knocked off top-seeded Sam Houston State in the team’s first game. Although A&M-Corpus Christi was ousted from the bracket by UIW two games later, the team returns 20 letterwinners and seeks to return to the conference tournament in their backyard at Whataburger Field. The Islanders placed two on the preseason all-conference teams in utility man Itchy Burts and starting pitcher John Gaddis. The team will get plenty of chances to get familiar with the conference tournament site with four Power-5 opponents (Utah, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas) at Whataburger Field. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks – Preseason Ranking: 11 – 2019 Record: 25-33 (16-14 SLC)The ‘Jacks return 15 student-athletes from the 2019 campaign, which ended with a 1-2 showing at the Southland Conference Tournament after pulling off an upset of No. 3 seed Southeastern Louisiana in the first round. Among the group is Second Team Preseason All-Southland relief pitcher Jeremy Rodriguez, who finished with a team-low 1.80 ERA in 24 appearances last year. He registered five saves, struck out 26 batters and allowed opponents to hit .225 in 35 innings. SFA visits Texas A&M, TCU and Baylor for a trio of midweek tilts and close the season against reigning Southland tournament champion McNeese. Sam Houston State Bearkats – Preseason Ranking: 1 – 2019 Record: 31-25 (20-10 SLC)The Bearkats, who were knocked out of the Southland Conference tournament for a second-straight year in 2019, have their eyes set on a third-straight regular-season title under first-year head coach Jay Sirianni. SHSU returns just 12 letterwinners and four starters, including preseason all-conference selections Colton Cowser, Gavin Johnson and Jack Rogers. Named a Preseason All-American by D1Baseball, Collegiate Baseball and NCBWA, Cowser will lead a young Bearkats squad that welcomes 21 newcomers. SHSU is set to play 10 games against NCAA Tournament participants (Loyola Marymount, TCU, McNeese, Baylor, Texas A&M). First Game: at Louisiana, Feb. 14, 6 p.m. First Game: vs. Utah Valley, Feb. 14, 4:05 p.m. First Game: at Arkansas State, Feb. 14, 6 p.m. First Game: vs. Wichita State, Feb. 14, 6:30 p.m. First Game: vs. Bradley, Feb. 14, 6:30 p.m. First Game: vs. Missouri State, Feb. 14, 3 p.m. First Game: at No. 3 Texas Tech, Feb. 14, 1 p.m. (FOX Sports Southwest)last_img

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