The Southern baseball team will start its intra-squad Fall World Series on Friday at Lee Hines Field.
The Jaguars will play again Saturday and if a winner-take-all finale is necessary it will take place next Friday.
It’s the climax of fall baseball practice for a team trying to lay the foundation for a bounce-back from a 10-26 record, 6-16 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, last season.
It’s a long way to the start of the season in February, but the fall has provided a fresh start for Southern.
“We’re so much better than we were last year,” coach Roger Cador said.
He cited a few reasons for optimism.
First, the Jaguars lost only one everyday player to graduation (outfielder B.J. Rowry) and none of the seniors-to-be took advantage of an opportunity to transfer and be immediately eligible because of an ongoing NCAA post-season ban at Southern.
“They all decided to stay and it was the same conversation each time,” Cador said. “I want to graduate from Southern. To me that’s really the stamp of approval. To me that’s really encouraging. They get the picture — education is important.”
Cador said everyone on the team will be academically certified to play, thanks to the efficient paperwork of first-year assistant Jason Anderson, who played for Cador.
“I was concerned about eligibility,” Cador said. “But all of the kids will be cleared and ready to go. Jason being a former student and understanding the system has been crucial.
“He’s been able to fix so many broken things. I’ve been so impressed with how he’s able to work through the system and get things done.”
Cador also has added former LSU assistant and Southeastern Louisiana head coach Dan Canevari as his pitching coach.
“He has a lot of experience as an assistant and as a head coach,” Cador said. “What he brings is enormous because he had the privilege of working under the legendary Ron Fraser at Miami and then Skip Bertman at LSU.
“He’s been a part of seven national championships. He and I have done clinics together and I was impressed with his organization.”
Cador said he also expects long-time assistant Fernando Puebla to return to the staff some time in November after a one-year absence. The program suffered a jolt shortly before the start of last season when Puebla, Cador’s right hand, had to return to his native Venezuela because of visa issues.
Puebla recently returned to Baton Rouge and once his paperwork is finalized he will reassume his duties as associate head coach and Anderson will become a volunteer coach.
“I feel really good that we will have him back some time in November,” Cador said. “Once we get Fernando I think we’ll complement each other very well.”
The new coaches replace former pitching coach Roick Greene and former hitting coach Mike Partida.
The players already have moved into the Jaguars long-awaited clubhouse that was built next to Hines Field. Cador and the coaches are waiting for the arrival of furniture before relocating from their offices in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
Additionally, Southern has added several players that Cador said will make the Jaguars more competitive after they failed to qualify for the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament last season.
They include first baseman Nicosi Djehuti-mes of Oakland, California, Toi Jackson, a middle infielder from St. Augustine High School, and four right-handed pitchers — Daniel Franklin of East St. John, Tyler Robinson of Ponchatoula, Tyler Polk of Coxeaux High School and Justin Franklin from the Chicago area.
“I’m still looking for the pitchers to be more consistent because pitching could be our strength this year, especially the top six people,” Cador said. “After that it gets a little shaky but I feel we’ve got five or six arms that we could really ride and do well with.”
One of those arms is right-hander Santos Saldivar (3-0, 2.06 earned run average), who was the Friday night starter last season. The Jaguars also return several starting position players, including in fielder D.J. Wallace and outfielders Lance Jones and Tyler Kirksey.
Southern still has some whittling of the roster to do. Currently 48 players are practicing and most will return when preseason practice starts in January, at which point the coaches will quickly get down to 35.
“I just want to see guys who can compete, perform and impress me,” Cador said. “They only have a few more days where they can show me what they can do.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate. For more coverage, follow our blogs at http://blogs.theadvocate.com