Conference champion Southeastern Louisiana reaps SLC postseason rewards _lowres

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Southeastern coach Matt Riser

Everyone on the Southeastern Louisiana baseball team knew what was about to happen, and none of them was happy about it.

If the sea of black clouds weren’t enough of a sign, the team staffer who watched the lightning detector sealed the Lions’ fate — with a few days before their final Southland Conference series with UNO this weekend, practice was called off because of an oncoming storm.

As the players packed their equipment and headed into the field house, grumbles could be heard about needing every practice they could get.

Sure, one practice wouldn’t be a death knell in their season, but as senior first baseman Kevin Carr put it, the Lions are just getting to the exciting part.

“We’ve grounded it out all year and we’ve put ourselves in a great situation,” Carr said. “You can kind of sense and feel that the energy and enthusiasm within the team is at a high point right now.”

The Lions already own the school record for conference wins in a season, tying the Southland record for consecutive conference wins in a single season (12) in the process. With a sweep against the Privateers this weekend, they’ll also break the Southland record for overall conference wins in a season (25) and the school record for overall wins (41).

And while those records are great to have, they ultimately mean nothing to Southeastern unless the Lions accomplish their primary goal of winning the program’s first Southland regular-season title. They are currently one win against last-place UNO — or a Northwestern State loss — away from achieving that goal.

Last season was the first time the Lions won the Southland tournament, but they haven’t won a regular-season crown since 1994, when they were part of the Trans America Athletic Conference, now the Atlantic Sun Conference.

“The biggest thing that feels good is that we have ourselves in a position to win a Southland Conference title,” Southeastern coach Matt Riser said. “We didn’t set out to beat any streaks or records, we set out to win that regular-season title.”

Riser said prior to the season, he was concerned about Southeastern having to rebuild after the loss of several key players — including catcher Jameson Fisher (torn labrum), who led the team in almost every major statistical category last season.

But the Lions have exceeded all expectations by producing one of the most potent offenses in the country.

The team’s .305 batting average, 546 hits and .397 on base percentage all rank among the top 15 of the country, while its 345 runs rank just outside the top 25.

“We’re a confident bunch. We feel like we’ve dealt with it all this year,” Carr said. “We’ve had some ups and we’ve had some extreme downs, but we feel like we’ve set ourselves up for where we want to be right now.”

Riser said the extreme low point of the season came in a series-ending loss to Incarnate Word in March, in which the Lions blew a 10-0 lead going into the bottom of the seventh and lost 11-10.

That game was a turning point for the team, Riser said, and the season might be drastically different if it hadn’t faced that adversity.

But for now, the Lions have to focus on the game ahead of them.

It may be on the cusp of history — setting itself up for a run at consecutive Southland tournament championships and a subsequent NCAA regional berth in the process — But Southeastern continues to ride the philosophy that got the team to this point.

“Our first goal is the first pitch of the night, and then we move on to the next pitch after that,” third baseman Brett Hoffman said. “We’re aware of the achievements, but taking care of the little things ... that’s what we base our goals off of.”