Southeastern baseball coach Matt Riser has put himself into a difficult situation.
Riser has to find a way to surpass the expectations he built in his first season at the helm of the Lions in which he led the program to its first NCAA regional tournament appearance since 1994.
But Riser and the Lions are ready for the challenge as they head into opening day against Louisiana Tech on Friday.
“I feel like we’re in a god place mentality wise,” Riser said. “This is probably the most physical team we’ve had — barring injuries.”
Unfortunately, the Lions suffered a barrage of preseason injuries, primarily the loss of Louisville Slugger third-team preseason All-American catcher Jameson Fisher and fellow catcher Sam Roberson both for the season.
Junior catcher Chris Eades start behind the plate this season, while Fisher attempts to recover from a torn labrum and Roberson from a combination of Tommy John and wrist surgery. Both players will redshirt this season.
While Riser said he’s confident in Eades’ ability, the Lions are in a precarious spot going into the season.
“One thing we always like is to have two No. 1 catchers so we can rotate them in and they’ll be fresh,” Riser said. “This year, it’s just going to be Chris and Chris is going to have to stay healthy.
“If Chris goes down, we’ve already used up our mulligans from an injury stand point.”
But even with the injuries, the rest of the Southland coaches are confident Southeastern will be in the hunt for a regular-season title at the end of the season. They picked the Lions to finish third in the conference with one coach giving them a first-place vote.
The experienced infield is probably a major factor as Southeastern starts a pair of veterans on the corners, including Louisville Slugger second-team preseason All-American Brett Hoffman at third base.
Hoffman led the Lions last season with 17 doubles and was second with 41 RBIs. He finished third on the team with a .312 batting average.
Riser said he’s just about settled in on sophomore Brooks Morse at the shortstop position, but the question of who’s on second remains unanswered.
Sophomore Kennon Menard and senior Jacob Williams are the current front-runners for the Lions at second base, but Riser also mentioned freshman Zachary Clark as being in the hunt.
In contrast to the experience of the Lions’ infield, things certainly take a turn when looking to the outfield.
Sophomore center fielder Jacob Seward is the only returning starter and will be the Lions’ leadoff man offensively. Riser again threw out several names for left and right field, but it appears sophomore Ryan Byers will get the nod in left after spending last season in a reserve role.
On the mound, the Lions lose three seniors in the back of the bullpen, but Riser is staying optimistic with the return of Mason Klotz as the closer. However, Klotz will miss the first month of the season with a dislocated patella tendon. Junior college transfer Pat Cashman will fill in until Klotz returns.
Riser added that he’s excited to see the one-two punch of Tate Scioneaux and Jake Johnson as the Friday and Saturday starters while the Sunday and mid-week slots remain a competition.
“It’ll be the third or fourth week until we get everybody back healthy, which is right in time for conference,” Riser said. “For non-conference, we’ll do what we did last year and mix guys in and see where the experience is at. If we lose a ballgame early because of inexperience, than so be it because we want to win the Southland regular season.”