Most college coaches, regardless of sport, agree that the competition heats up once conference play begins.
The Southern University baseball team will get its first taste of that competition this weekend.
Saturday afternoon, the Jaguars (3-4) crank up Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division play at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-7), bringing an added challenge to already demanding early-season schedule.
“When you get into conference play, a whole lot of things change,” said Southern coach Roger Cador, who’s searching for his 15th SWAC title in 29 years. “That’s the thing that I like, is that every team plays hard in the conference, because they want to win it. Over the years, Southern has been a pretty good program, and teams want to win against Southern. That’s an extra challenge that follows players is that they have to meet the challenge, and I think they will.”
The Jaguars travel to Pine Bluff, Ark., with only have seven games under their belts this season. They dropped two of three last weekend at the MLB Urban Invitational in Houston. Southern lost a tight 1-0 game to Texas Southern in the weekend opener, then blew a lead against Alabama State, losing 6-4.
The Jaguars recovered in the weekend finale, mounting a rally to defeat reigning SWAC champion Prairie View, giving Cador a few positives to take from the round-robin of games at Minute Maid Park.
“What I liked from a coaching standpoint is that they didn’t give in,” Cador said. “They could have said, ‘Oh well, this is a wash weekend.’ They still fought hard to try and salvage one game, and they did. And they did it late. Which means a lot of things weren’t going good early, but they stayed with the plan and got it solved at the end.”
Cador is hoping to build off that momentum this weekend. He will send his left-handed ace, Jesse “Doc” Holiday, to the mound in Saturday’s first game.
The senior has made two starts this season with a 1-1 record. The loss came last Friday against Texas Southern, when he got no run support in a 1-0 game. Holiday leads all Jaguars starters with a 1.50 ERA, limiting opposing hitters to a .146 batting average.
He’s struck out a team-high 12 batters this season and has allowed just six hits in 12 innings.
“We’re sending the ol’ gunslinger, Doc Holiday. That’s what I call him,” Cador said. “I like my gunslinger. Sometimes you have a gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and I want him taking the lead. He’s done a fantastic job for us in the last two years being the lead pitcher. We don’t plan to change that at all.”
Southern will likely need another solid effort from Holiday with the Jaguars bats struggling. Southern has scored four runs or fewer in three of its past four games.
Cador has used a new lineup in six of seven games this season and plans to do the same Saturday.
“We have some guys hitting in positions that are pressure positions, and they’re not ‘pressure’ kind of players,” Cador said. “We are going to move the lineup around a little because some guys are going to do better when there is no pressure. I watch them, and they do very good when there is no man on base and it’s nice and smooth. I just know that we’re correct in our assessment that we need to move the hitting order around.”
Southern and UAPB play a doubleheader at noon Saturday, followed by a single game at 1 p.m. Sunday.