The UNO baseball team will host the Major League Baseball’s eighth annual Urban Invitational this weekend, a round-robin tournament that intends to place a spotlight on historically black colleges and their teams.
Grambling, Southern and Alcorn State will participate along with UNO in six games. The Privateers play Alcorn State on Friday, Southern on Saturday and Grambling on Sunday.
“The MLB has done a great job building the Urban Youth Program not only here, but throughout the country,” UNO coach Ron Maestri said. “They’ve started this tournament and it’s great that we can host it. I think it will be exciting to be able to reach out to the kids with this kind of program.”
UNO enters the Urban Invitational with a 1-3 record after opening the season with four road games, but hopes it can build momentum with eight of their next nine games at Maestri Field.
Maestri believes the Privateers’ momentum shift may have begun with their 7-6 win at Southern Miss on Wednesday.
Freshman pitcher Jarred Taylor capped UNO’s win with a three-inning save, giving up two runs on three hits as he held off the Golden Eagles.
Maestri said the development of Taylor and fellow freshman Shawn Semple can be the key to the Privateers rounding out their staff early in the season.
“Both of the freshman have really stepped up for us,” Maestri said. “You have two young freshmen facing a couple of good teams, and they held their own. I’m very happy with them — especially the way Jarred closed the game out for us at Southern Miss.
“If they can continue to play at this level, it will give us a huge lift.”
Another early-season bright spot for the Privateers has been the play of preseason second-team All-Southland Conference selction Hezekiah Randolph.
Randolph had two offseason surgeries during to help relieve ailments that hindered his play the entire second half of last season. The UNO staff brought him along slowly throughout fall practice.
Randolph now leads the team in batting average (.438) and on-base percentage (.500) and is tied for the team lead in hits (seven) through four games. Maestri said the sophomore can finally show what he is capable of now that he is free to play with no limitations.
“He didn’t have much of a fall because we wanted to make sure he was right after those surgeries,” Maestri said. “He’s gotten off to a good start and it’s really made our lineup potent. We’re swinging the bat really well as a team. I’m really happy with where we’re at.”