About 50 miles of interstate separate the campuses of Southern University and Southeastern Louisiana. Second only to cross-town LSU, the Lions are the closest Division I baseball program to The Bluffs.
But while the two teams may be geographically close, the status of their seasons couldn’t be further apart.
The Jaguars (8-13) are only just now coming out of a truly dismal first month of the season after coach Roger Cador hit the reset button on his program in the fall. They’re getting better — winning five of their last seven games — but, as evidenced by their 11th worst fielding percentage in Division I, there’s still plenty of work to do.
An hour down the road, Southeastern (18-6) is riding high on a school-record, 12-game winning streak as it tries to repeat as the Southland Conference regular season champion with virtually the same team as last year. The Lions already beat the likes of Tennessee and Tulane and split a two-game series with Southern Mississippi.
On Tuesday, the Jaguars make the hour-long road trip down I-12 to play the Lions at 6 p.m. at Alumni Field.
“It’s always good to play in-state opponents,” said Southeastern coach Matt Riser. “A lot of these young men grew up playing against each other. We try to keep our brand of baseball in the state as much as we can. It’s a good brand of baseball in the state of Louisiana.”
It doesn’t help Southern’s brand of baseball that its roster won’t be at 100 percent in Hammond.
The Jaguars’ second-best hitter and starting catcher Jose Dela Torre had to return home to Puerto Rico this week to attend to family matters, which means freshman backup catcher D’Andre Williams will set up behind home plate.
Williams started three games at catcher this season, including the second game last Saturday where he went 1-for-4 with a single and two strikeouts.
Cador also said right fielder Anthony Valdes will most likely be held out on Tuesday because of a strained hamstring. Usual designated hitter Ashanti Wheatley will take his place in the field, but no decision has been made on who goes to the DH spot.
Sophomore RHP Harold Myles is slated to start for Southern, but is battling the flu and could miss the trip. In that case, junior LHP Jarrod Jarreau — who began the season as the Jaguars’ midweek starter — would get the nod. It’s expected to be a game day decision.
Cador said even if he doesn’t start, Jarreau will see some playing time no matter what.
“This team, even though we have a lot of inexperienced players, with a little execution, they really could be in good shape in terms of wins and loses,” Cador said. “What I’m trying to see in this game is for us to build on that so it’ll be there for our next conference weekend series.”
Southeastern will take Tuesday as a chance to experiment with its lineup, letting freshman catcher Evan Pace gain experience as the most likely replacement for senior Chris Eades after this season.
Freshman pitcher Carlo Graffeo will get his first start for the Lions as someone Riser hopes could step into a starting role next season.
Graffeo (2-0) allowed three runs on eight hits in his five appearances as a reliever.
“We just want to keep things rolling,” Riser said. “When you find success, you can do one of two things: You can get content and feel like you accomplished something, or you can get hungry for more. That’s where this club is at.”