As the No. 1 seed from the West Division in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament, Southern opens against an Alabama A&M team with only eight wins to its credit and seeded fourth from the East.
But the Jaguars know better than to look past their opening opponent.
Southern last year had a 16-game winning streak and was also seeded first from the West when the Jaguars opened SWAC play against a Mississippi Valley team that had lost nine games in a row and was seeded fourth from the East.
The result: Valley 6, Southern 4.
“We don’t want to get slapped in the face on opening day again,” senior pitcher Danny Garcia said.
Southern (20-21) will have the luxury of starting senior lefty Jesse “Doc” Holiday, who struck out a career-high 13 batters in his final appearance of the regular season, against A&M (8-39) at 3 p.m. Wednesday at LaGrave Field in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Jaguars will hope for different results than last year, when they had the SWAC tournament on their home field.
Valley overcame a four-run deficit to stun Southern in its opener, then eliminated the Jaguars from NCAA tournament contention with another upset two days later.
Coach Roger Cador hopes his his team has learned better.
“What we’ve got to do is make sure we don’t take anyone for granted,” Cador said.
Five of Alabama A&M’s six SWAC East wins came against Valley, which this year won only one conference game — against A&M — and finished last in the East.
Southern, meanwhile, won five of its final six games in SWAC West play.
“When you reach this point in the season, we understand anybody can beat anybody,” Holiday said.
No holding back
SU hopes junior slugger D.J. Wallace, who underwent surgery on a torn meniscus earlier this year and has played in only eight games, can help an offense that has lacked consistency throughout the season.
Wallace will start in right field Wednesday and bat cleanup only a week after returning to practice.
“We’re really looking forward to getting him back. He’s going to be a spark for our lineup,” pitcher Jose De Leon said.
Wallace batted .340 last year with seven homers and 37 RBIs.
His return leaves junior outfielder Sean Washington, battling a lingering leg injury, as the only Jaguar questionable for the tournament.
One of the big decisions Cador will have to make this week is whether to hold freshman right-hander Camilo Godoyfor a possible start or use him out of the bullpen for the first time.
Godoy is an option behind Holiday, De Leon and Garcia as Southern’s fourth starter for the tournament. He could also provide the Jaguars’ maligned bullpen a boost as a long reliever, but Cador never used his regular midweek starter in that role during the regular season.
All of Godoy’s appearances have come in his seven starts.
“That’s all he has done is start for us,” Cador said. “Bringing someone out of the bullpen in (the tournament), it’s a lot different than him being comfortable and doing what he’s accustomed to doing.”
The Jaguars received a visit during Monday morning’s practice from a stray dog that jogged about the outfield.
Although some players tried getting the dog to leave, Cador hoped for good luck.
“I told them to leave the dog alone,” Cador said. “Maybe it’s bringing a message to us. A dog is a man’s best friend. I wasn’t going to run the dog away.”