2021 Southland Conference baseball season begins Friday
FRISCO, Texas – The 58th season of Southland Conference baseball gets underway at 3 p.m. CT, when reigning Southland Baseball Tournament champion McNeese takes on No. 25 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Sam Houston State Bearkats – Preseason Ranking: 1 – 2020 Record: 7-7 (1-2 SLC)
In search of a first full season under head coach Jay Sirianni, the Bearkats have a chance at a seventh title in nine years and the first in league history to post multiple runs of three-straight championships. Sam Houston garnered four preseason all-conference honorees, led by reigning Southland Conference Hitter of the Year Colton Cowser. The Cypress, Texas, native enters the season ranked as the No. 13 prospect for the 2021 MLB Draft by MLB.com. Cowser is joined on the top squad by catcher Gavin Johnson and outfielder Jack Rogers. The Bearkats have four opponents scheduled that are ranked in the preseason top-25 in No. 3 Texas Tech, No. 9 Texas, No. 10 TCU and No. 17 Oklahoma State.
First Game: Wed., Feb. 24 vs. Texas State (Globe Life Field, Arlington, Texas) – 4 p.m.
McNeese Cowboys – Preseason Ranking: 2 – 2020 Record: 10-7 (0-0 SLC)
Still the reigning tournament champion after a milestone year in 2019 that saw the Cowboys win their first Southland Conference tournament title since 2003, McNeese earned seven first-place votes and a second-place slot in the preseason poll. The Cowboys look to repeat history with the help of a league-leading six preseason all-conference picks, four of which landed on the top squad in second baseman Nate Fisbeck, shortstop Reid Bourque, designated hitter Clayton Rasbeary and pitcher Will Dion. In addition to facing No. 25 Alabama to open the 2021 campaign, McNeese also has a date with No. 7 LSU on April 6.
First Game: Fri., Feb. 19 at No. 25 Alabama – 3 p.m.
Southeastern Louisiana Lions – Preseason Ranking: 3 – 2020 Record: 6-10 (1-2 SLC)
Coached by the league’s active leader in career winning percentage (.618) in Matt Riser, the Lions will feature plenty of familiar faces in 2021, including their entire starting rotation and every member of the starting lineup. Starting pitchers Trey Shaffer and Will Warren occupied the preseason all-conference first team and second team, respectively, and Warren was joined on the second team by first-baseman Preston Faulkner. The Lions’ 2021 non-conference slate features a four-game set at No. 10 Arizona (Feb. 25-28) and a mid-week tilt at No. 7 LSU on March 16.
First Game: Sat., Feb. 20 vs. Mississippi Valley State (ESPN+) – 1 p.m.
Central Arkansas Bears – Preseason Ranking: 4 – 2020 Record: 8-8 (2-1 SLC)
The Bears posted their third-straight 30-win season in 2019 and made the most of their eighth-consecutive Southland Conference tournament appearance, earning the No. 2 seed and advancing to the title game, where the squad fell to McNeese 4-2. UCA placed two on the preseason all-league first team in third-baseman Beau Orlando and reliever Conner Williams. The Bears’ venture on a 10-game road stretch from March 19-30, featuring matchups with top-10 SEC squads on back-to-back Tuesdays against No. 4 Mississippi (March 23) and No. 8 Arkansas (March 30).
First Game: Sun., Feb. 21 vs. Western Illinois – 1 p.m.
Northwestern State Demons – Preseason Ranking: 5 – 2020 Record: 12-4 (2-1 SLC)
The shortened season arguably hit the hardest for the Demons, who were 12-4 and fresh off a series win in the first weekend of conference play. Pitcher Logan Hofmann, who tossed the most innings without allowing an earned run (28) last year, became the second-straight NSU pitcher to be drafted in the fifth round of the MLB Draft. Leading the Demons into 2021 will be fifth-year seniors Tyler Smith and Marshall Skinner, who both earned Second-Team All-Southland recognition. NSU’s schedule features 30 games at Brown-Stroud Field, where the team is 50-20 (.714) since 2018.
First Game: Sat., Feb. 20 at Southern Miss – 5 p.m.
New Orleans Privateers – Preseason Ranking: 6 – 2020 Record: 11-6 (2-1 SLC)
Seeking a return to the Southland Conference Baseball Tournament, where the Privateers last recorded a runner-up finish in 2018, UNO was picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll. The Privateers had a trio of student-athletes voted to the preseason all-conference second team in seniors Luther Woullard, Salo Iza and Chris Turpin. Woullard led the team with a .381 batting average in 2020, and Iza won the first Gold Glove in program history in 2019. Turpin went went 1-1 with a 2.66 ERA as the Friday-night starter last year. Maestri Field will serve as the setting for 15 of UNO’s first 16 games, including hosting No. 7 LSU for the first time since 2017.
First Game: Sat., Feb. 20 vs. Southern – 2 p.m.
UIW Cardinals – Preseason Ranking: t-7 – 2020 Record: 9-7 (1-2 SLC)
The Cardinals ended their conference tournament drought in 2019, earning the No. 4 seed and falling one game short of advancing to the title game. After skipper Ryan Shotzberger retooled with 17 newcomers in his first year, UIW enters 2021 with 18 returning lettermen, including preseason all-conference first-teamer Ryan Flores and second-teamers Grant Smith and Lee Thomas. The Cardinals’ non-conference slate includes contests with No. 26 Texas A&M (March 3), No. 10 TCU (May 4) and a pair of meetings with No. 9 Texas (March 23, April 27).
First Game: Fri. Feb. 26 vs. Texas Southern – 6:30 p.m.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders – Preseason Ranking: t-7 – 2020 Record: 8-10 (2-1 SLC)
Scott Malone, the league’s winningest active coach (323), looks to get the Islanders over the hump of three-consecutive 14-16 marks in league play from 2017-19. Utility man Itchy Burts and starting pitcher John Gaddis repeated as preseason all-conference picks after Burts recorded 23 hits and a .315 hitting average in 18 games and Gaddis struck out 19 over 21 innings in four starts last year. A&M-Corpus Christi’s schedule is headlined by an appearance in the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park, where the Islanders will face No. 10 TCU, Rice and No. 3 Texas Tech.
First Game: Tue., Feb. 23 at Houston – 3 p.m.
Nicholls Colonels – Preseason Ranking: 9 – 2020 Record: 10-8 (1-2 SLC)
The Colonels’ shortened season was highlighted by a 4-2 upset of then-No. 11 LSU which garnered Southland Pitcher of the Week honors for Tyler Theriot, who struck out seven in 5.1 innings for the win. Theriot is one of 20 returners for Nicholls and one of two primary starters from last year, along with Trever Kilcrease. The Colonels will also welcome back outfielders Dane Simon and Xane Washington, who ranked second and third on the team, respectively, in on-base percentage and OPS. Nicholls aims for another upset of No. 7 LSU with a pair of meetings on Feb. 27 and March 2.
First Game: Sat., Feb. 20 vs. Eastern Illinois – 1 p.m.
Abilene Christian Wildcats – Preseason Ranking: 10 – 2020 Record: 7-8 (1-2 SLC)
After bringing in 32 newcomers in his first year, Rick McCarty’s transformation of the Wildcats continued with a 20-member signing class in 2020, including graduate transfer Mike Brown. The former Wofford outfielder was a Second Team All-Southern Conference selection after leading the league with 38 stolen bases and five triples. ACU’s limited non-conference schedule includes a three-game road series at No. 9 Texas, as well as a Feb. 23 date with No. 26 Texas A&M.
First Game: Sat., Feb. 20 at Tarleton State – 2 p.m.
Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks – Preseason Ranking: 11 – 2020 Record: 6-10 (3-0 SLC)
The third-longest tenured active coach in the conference, Johnny Cardenas enters his 13th year at the helm of the ‘Jacks. SFA accounted for one slot on the preseason all-conference second team in relief pitcher Jeremy Rodriguez, who has a 1.88 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 38.1 innings over the past two seasons. The ‘Jacks schedule includes a matchup with No. 22 Oklahoma at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 23 and a game against No. 10 TCU on March 2.
First Game: Sun., Feb. 21 vs. Central Michigan – TBA
Lamar Cardinals – Preseason Ranking: 12 – 2020 Record: 7-10 (0-3 SLC)
The all-time leader in win percentage in conference action (.575), the Cardinals are in search of their first conference tournament appearance since 2017. Lamar was represented on the Preseason All-Southland Second Team by Anthony Quirion, who was one of five Cardinals to start all 17 games, hitting .324 while slugging .500. Only five of LU’s 56 games will be played outside of the Lone Star State: a mid-week tilt at Southern and a four-game series at Northwestern State.
First Game: Sat., Feb. 20 at UTRGV – 11 a.m.
Houston Baptist Huskies – Preseason Ranking: 13 – 2020 Record: 6-11 (2-1 SLC)
The Huskies enter 2021 with 22 returning letterwinners and eight returning starters, including seven from the lineup. Among them is outfielder Brandon Bena, who landed on the preseason all-conference first team after ranking second on the squad in hits (19) and RBI (8) in 2020. HBU’s early non-conference slate includes a three-game slate at No. 3 Texas Tech, immediately followed by a Tuesday night matchup at No. 26 Texas A&M.
First Game: Sat., Feb. 20 at Rice – 1 p.m.
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