Blake Dean has high expectations for his second UNO baseball team. He wants to win 40 games.
The Privateers begin that quest when they open their season 6 p.m. Friday at Maestri Field against Southern as part of the Fourth Annual MLB Urban Invitational.
“In getting to 40 wins, it is important to get a good start,” Dean said. “We go into any games with the mindset we’ve got to win. But those guys are going to be as excited to play their first games as we are.
“It’s always a dog fight the first couple of weeks. Everyone is excited about playing.”
Southern Coach Roger Cador is likely excited just to have a fresh start. His team lost their final eight games last season and finished 14-32, a rare low mark for a coach with 850 career wins and eight NCAA tournament appearances.
Southern returns its entire pitching staff from last season and most of its every day lineup. Cador’s one significant loss was catcher Jose De La Torre, who hit .339 last season.
For the Jaguars, pitching will be a key. Returnees Daniel Franklin, J’Markus George and Harold Myles are the projected weekend starters.
“If we can pitch well and play good defense, we could have a good chance to do good things in the regular season,” Cador said.
Dean brought in 24 new players this season, but returns nine key people including projected weekend starters Shawn Semple, Riley Hodge and Bryan Warzek.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces,” Dean said. “But for us it was (keeping) all of our core guys.”
Dean became head coach last season, taking over a team that lost 40 games. The Privateers finished 31-26, giving the once-dynamic program its first winning record since 2008.
“Forty wins is our expectation (this season) and hopefully we’ll build on what we did last year,” Dean said. “We’ve got people’s attention, but now we’ve got to solidify ourselves.
“We’ve got to get the stigma of UNO these past few years out of people’s minds.”
Six teams will participate in the Urban Invitational. UNO’s games will be played at Maestri Field. The others are scheduled for Wesley Barrow.
Saturday’s games feature a nationally televised doubleheader on the MLB network. Alcorn plays Prarie View at 2 p.m. and Grambling meets Southern at 6 p.m.