UNO bats erupt in 14-4 win over Southern _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ--UNO's Kyle Bracey celebrates his second home run in the second inning against Southern as they play at UNO on Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

Blake Dean has passed just about every test he has faced with flying colors so far in his first season as UNO’s head baseball coach, but he may be on the verge of his toughest test yet this weekend.

That is, if Mother Nature allows it.

The Privateers (11-2) were set to start their first Southland Conference series of the season Friday against Sam Houston State, but weather concerns forced the game to be postponed. The teams will try to play a doubleheader Sunday after first playing their game scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, if the weather permits.

Regardless of when the games will be played, Dean knows it will be critical for his team to carry the momentum from its early-season run into a strong start in conference play.

“We understand that the talent level in our conference is pretty level across the board, so we really want to start this thing off well,” Dean said. “When there isn’t that much difference between the teams, a lot of times the games just come down to grit and which side wants it more. Thankfully for us, our guys have shown the ability to fight for those tough wins late in the game early on this year.”

No game signified UNO’s ability to grind out those tough games more than Wednesday’s upset of crosstown rival Tulane.

The Privateers trailed by six runs in that game, which ended with an RBI single by Aaron Palmer and an error by Tulane that allowed the game-winning run to score. Dean said it was probably his team’s most significant win of the season. UNO has pulled off some other miraculous wins, but doing it against a team of Tulane’s caliber proved to the team that it may be in the midst of a special season.

“I think that win definitely opened up everyone’s eyes a little bit, including some of our guys,” Dean said. “That was the moment we proved that we’re a team that’s willing to scrap and continually play hard all the way until the last out.”

Throughout the Privateers’ best start to a season since 1996, Dean has harped on the fact that his team is still learning how to win games and develop into a true contender in the conference.

UNO has only won a combined five games in conference play over the past two seasons, but the hot start has the team believing it may be able to hang with some of the heavy hitters in the Southland — and the numbers suggest they may be right.

The Privateers lead the Southland in wins (11), batting average (.342) and runs (120), but Dean said it’s probably too early to start thinking about competing for a conference championship.

“We are just trying to ride this early-season wave right now and see how for it can take us,” he said. “Everybody’s excited with the way we are playing right now, but we need to take this thing one step at a time.

“Our guys are probably playing a little bit over their head right now, but whatever they lack, they are making up for with dedication and passion — and it’s exciting to see just how far it may take us.”