Third-year Southern baseball coach Kerrick Jackson turned the program’s fortunes around in one season, but the building isn’t complete.
Jackson welcomes 14 incoming freshman when the team begins fall practice on Saturday and that’s a theme he’s hoping to maintain so last season’s 32-26 record isn’t remembered as a one-year wonder. Jackson already has several freshmen committed to his next signing class.
“The way we want to build this thing is with younger kids,” said Jackson, whose 2019 team nearly quadrupled the win total for his 9-33 first season. “I don’t want to put us in a situation when we are bringing in a bunch of junior college kids every year. We’re on the right track with these kids.”
Jackson likes what he’s seen in the individual group workouts and there is plenty of work to do to replace seven everyday starters from last year’s SWAC regular season and tournament champion. Making the NCAA tournament is something he wants to become an every year occurrence.
“I like our team,” he said. “These younger kids have a good baseball IQ. It all comes down to how they adapt to the speed of the game. We’re trying to put them in position in practice where we play faster and work faster so when they get into the game it slows down for them.”
Two of the freshmen expected to play big roles are infielders Jahli Hendricks, from Phildelphia, Pennsylvanis, Bubba, Thompson of Appleton, Wisconsin. Both have high baseball IQs.
“He knows how to win and understands the game,” Jackson said of Hendrick, who played on a Little League champion team. He looks like someone who can be in there every day. (Thompson) is very athletic, understands the game and has the skill and ability level to step in and hold it down. If we can get those two on the field we’ll be in a good situation.”
D.J. Berry-Staszak is an infielder-outfielder with good speed, who is recovering from minor knee surgery last summer.
The top incoming pitchers include Baton Rouge Community College transfer Joseph Battaglia and freshman Caleb Maloof. Jackson described Battaglia, who is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, as a “strike-thrower who is competitive.”
Maloof (6-5, 230) is a right-hander who played at a high level and has worked hard in the weight room and on conditioning.
Jackson said he will build around returning players such as outfielder Hampton Hudson, first baseman Coby Taylor and catcher William Nelson. Hudson is the likely successor to Javeyan Williams in center field.
Second baseman Xavier Moore and outfielder Michael Wright played as a freshman. Moore played little last year and Wright missed the season because of eye surgery. Both will figure heavily into the 2020 team.
Catcher-first baseman Hunter David and outfielder Johnny Johnson transferred out of the program, Jackson said.
The pitching staff lost SWAC Reliever of the Year Connor Whalen and senior starter Justin Freeman, but returns staff ace Eli Finney, Jerome Bohannon, Wilhelm Allen and Austin Haensel. John Guinze will miss the season because of an academic issue.
Freshmen Mykel Page and Dimitri Frank and BRCC transfer Brandon Morris, who redshirted last year, could vie for the closer role vacated by Whalen. Page could be a two-way player and win a spot in the everyday lineup.
“On paper we are a lot deeper in pitching this year, guys who have experience and success where they were,” Jackson said.
The Jaguars will scrimmage every weekend and hold its fall intrasquad world series Nov. 15-17. The Jaguars will also play McNeese State in a fall scrimmage Oct. 26 at Lee Hines Field.