UNO and Northwestern State are two teams attempting to overcome the same demons this weekend.
The Privateers (11-21, 2-10 Southland) and the Demons (17-15, 9-5) enter this weekend licking their wounds after disappointing losses to LSU this week. Both teams are fighting to stop four-game losing streaks, and both teams enter their three-game series this weekend hoping to turn their seasons around after recent rough patches.
“LSU is a very tough team, and I saw (Northwestern State) put up pretty good fight against them,” UNO coach Ron Maestri said. “There’s no doubt that this is an important series for us. We’ve got to turn things around if we’re going to be competitive here in conference.”
The Privateers, who are also on a six-game losing streak against Southland opponents, have been on a downward spiral since preseason All-Southland selection Sammy Capielano (ankle) and starting pitcher Shawn Semple (mononucleosis) have been out of the lineup during the past few weeks.
With the Privateers lacking two of the more essential pieces of their lineup, they’ve lost 11 of their past 15 games, and Maestri said it’s unlikely that either will be playing during this weekend’s series.
After missing the previous 12 games, Capielano tried to return from his injury in UNO’s game against LSU on Tuesday, but soreness in his ankle forced him to exit the game early.
Maestri also said Semple was hoping to make his return this weekend, but recent bloodwork forced doctors to advise against it and hold Semple out for longer.
“It’s part of the game, but there’s no doubt that not having those guys hurts us,” Maestri said. “With Semple out, it’s kind of forced us to stretch our bullpen more than we’ve wanted to.
“Our hitters have done pretty well making up for Sammy, but we would love to have him back out there. He drove in a run for us against LSU on a bum ankle, which shows what the guy is capable of.”
This weekend, the Privateers’ main focus will be limiting the impact of Northwestern State’s Cort Brinson and Chase Daughdrill, one of the most potent tandems in the Southland.
Both are ranked in the top 10 of the conference for hits and home runs entering this weekend’s series, and Brinson is tied for second in the conference with 26 RBIs.
“Their lineup can be really explosive if you let them get it going,” Maestri said. “Our job is to get after them early in the game and limit the base runners when those guys come to the plate. If you give them opportunities to with runners on, they’re probably going to find a way to get them in.”
If the Privateers can find a way to counter the Demons attack, it will probably be led by their hot-hitting first baseman Jonathan Coco.
Coco enters the weekend leading UNO with a .328 batting average, and he’s picked up his play with the absence of Capielano in the lineup, hitting .360 with six RBIs in the 12 games the sophomore has missed with his ankle injury.
“He’s been as consistent as anybody on our team, and he responded really well when Sammy went out,” Maestri said. “Coco went through his injury issues last year, dealing with his shoulder, so he knew it was important for the other guys to step up when somebody goes down.
“But he’s been hitting the ball great for us, and I’m really proud of how far he’s come since he had to overcome those injuries.”