The outcome of this weekend’s series between Southern and Prairie View will go a long way in determining which team qualifies for the Southwestern Athletic Conference baseball tournament.
The last-place team in each division fails to qualify for the tournament, which happens May 13-17 at Wesley Barrow Stadium.
The Jaguars (8-21, 3-11) are last in the Western Division. Their series against the second-to-last Panthers (9-19, 4-10) begins at 6 p.m. Friday at Lee-Hines Field.
Though Southern can’t go to the NCAA tournament because of probation, earning a berth and competing in the SWAC tournament would be a boost for a program that has struggled with the early stages of a rebuilding process.
But having lost nine consecutive games, the Jaguars are taking things one step at a time.
“Right now, we’re just trying to play to get better,” Southern coach Roger Cador said Thursday. “We’re trying to finish with something on the positive side for a young team that will have almost everybody back next year. We’re trying to find something positive that they can hang their hat on.”
One positive is the recent play of outfielder Dondrayas Harris, who was named SWAC player of the week for his performance in four games last week, going 10-for-13 (.769) with five RBIs.
He hit for the cycle in the series finale against Grambling on Sunday and finished the week with two doubles, two triples and one home run for 19 total bases and a slugging percentage of 1.462.
Cador said he’s considering moving Harris or Anthony Valdes from the outfield to first base to shore up a position that been “a mess” since Johnathan Crain suffered a broken hamate bone before the season began.
There could also be changes in the pitching rotation. Cador is looking to lessen the load on left-hander J’Markus George and right-hander Daniel Franklin, who usually start the first two games on the weekend but might be used out of the bullpen this weekend. George has thrown 46.2 innings and Franklin has thrown 43.1; no other pitcher has thrown more than 29 innings.
The Jaguars’ rainout against Nicholls on Wednesday frees up midweek starter Harold Myles (0-5, 9.31) for the weekend, and Cador is considering starting closer Troy Lewis (1-2, 3.60) on Friday. Lewis, who was a starter at Delgado Community College, has thrown just 10.0 innings because of Southern’s limited save opportunities.
Prairie View is expected to start right-hander Darrien Williims (2-5, 9.00).
The Jaguars’ final two SWAC series are at Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Texas Southern. The Panthers’ last two SWAC series are at home against UAPB and Grambling.
Southern’s series at Prairie View last month was shortened to two games because of rain. The Jaguars won the first game 9-2 and lost the second 7-1.
Those were the last games that Southern has played outside of Louisiana. After this weekend, the Jaguars host Loyola on Tuesday to conclude a stretch of 20 consecutive games in Louisiana, all but four at Lee-Hines Field.
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.