Southern is itching for its first SWAC title since 2009, but to regain glory that once seemed like a given, a retooled roster has plenty of work to do.
There are no goals. There is only the idea that, by season’s end, this Southern baseball team can be “really good.”
The process to getting there picks up steam Friday night, when the Jaguars host Grambling at 6 p.m. Friday at Lee-Hines Field.
Despite finishing division play 14-10 and claiming the Western Division championship of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, last season is seen as a disappointment with the Jaguars (21-23) falling in the conference tournament.
“Obviously, we weren’t a very good team,” coach Roger Cador said. “We dealt with a lot of injuries. ... We did not swing the bats well. We did not play relatively good defense. We hit a lot of (lazy) fly balls. And all of those are a recipe for failure.”
Yet Cador and his squad are pegged to again repeat as division champs for 2014, but the longtime coach said he hasn’t spoken to the team about any season aspirations.
“We really haven’t talked a lot about goals,” Cador said. “Because we don’t know these guys. We’ve got four (position) players (returning) who started last year, and only three pitchers.”
Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped the players from putting expectations on themselves as they begin play.
“This program is one of the most prestigious black college programs in the nation,” said junior outfielder Tyler Kirksey, who was selected as a preseason second-team All-SWAC selection. “It’s been since 2009 that Southern has won SWAC, but hopefully we turn it around this year.”
The roster is littered with fresh faces. From the coaching staff — with new pitching coach Rick Greene and hitting coach Michael Partida — to the pitching staff where the Jaguars return just three arms.
“It’s tough,” said Santos Saldivar of being one of only three returning pitchers from last season, along with Cade LeBlanc and John Thigpen. “I always looked up to people, and now people are looking up to me.”
“We really are a rebuilding team,” Cador added.
In fact, the Jaguars have just two seniors in their everyday lineup: first baseman Bryan Rowry and second baseman Marcus Tomlin.
Yet the strength of the team lies in the outfield, with five capable hitters — Kirksey along with Stephen Wallace and Lance Jones as projected starters, with Sean Washington and Gavin Webster serving as platoon players.
“We have to platoon,” Cador said. “We have five quality outfielders that could start anywhere in the conference.”
In fact, Washington was selected as an all-conference second team member, yet is currently projected not to be a regular in the lineup.
“All three are premium athletes,” Cador said of his projected starting outfield. “They are the kind of athletes that people covet.”
As for the pitching staff, Cador said every role remains up for grabs.
“We’re not trying to tie anyone to any specific role until we see them in the fire,” Cador said. “We won’t know who are weekend guys are until we get into conference play.”
Despite the youthful squad, Cador said he fully expects his club to make strong strides and presumes they will be a formidable team late in the year.
“Once we get down the road together, they have the making of being a really good team,” Cador said.