Drive across the Harding Boulevard overpass and explore the campus at Southern University, and you’ll quickly realize it’s not a run-of-the-mill week.
Final exams are well under way. Buildings have started to empty out. And the baseball team finds itself in a strange little spot.
Last weekend, the Jaguars wrapped up the regular season by winning their 16th consecutive game, clinching the Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division title with a sweep of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
The SWAC tournament begins next Wednesday at Lee-Hines Field, and Southern already knows its first-round opponent (Mississippi Valley State), not to mention the time and date (3 p.m. Wednesday).
Before that, however, the Jaguars begin a three-game exhibition series against LSU-Eunice — a series that gives the team a chance to stay sharp, and possibly a chance to tinker.
The first game against LSU-E gets under way at 6 p.m. Thursday at Lee-Hines FIeld.
“Yeah, it’s a little different,” SU coach Roger Cador said of this series. “We will probably look at some different things and different guys. But we still want to give our regular guys a good complement of (playing) time. ... One thing you don’t want to do (is), you don’t want them to get rusty.”
That’s because the SWAC tournament is the only thing that really matters.
Although it’s been a remarkable season at Southern — the team, which dropped seven straight games in March and tumbled to fourth place in the Western Division, rebounded to go 22-3 down the stretch — the Jaguars can only reach an NCAA regional one way. They must win the double-elimination conference tournament.
So the team, quite naturally, is walking a fine line. Southern has to know that its pitchers and regular starters will be focused and ready. But the coaching staff has to prepare a few seldom-used subs for the SWAC tournament. After all, in a long, hot tournament, the need for situational players often increases.
First, the pitching staff.
Cador said he wants his usual starters to pitch against LSU-Eunice — but only a little (remember, they need to be fresh for the tournament).
To that end, right-hander Daniel Garcia will start Thursday’s game, but he’ll pitch only the first three innings.
The next man up is probably left-hander Jesse Holiday, the team’s No. 1 weekend starter. Holiday, who has a final exam Thursday, will report to the ballpark late, warm up, then replace Garcia or enter the game later on.
“Everybody’s going a maximum of three innings this week,” Cador said. “From Day 1, our pitchers have known that we’ve been building toward the (SWAC) tournament. They have not thrown more than 100 pitches. They know that when the tournament starts, we might ask them to do more than that. So that’s been the plan, and that is still our plan.”
Jose De Leon will throw the first three innings of Friday’s game, followed by Brian Foster, another weekend starter.
Freshman left-hander Pedro Fargas, who threw 5.2 scoreless relief innings in two midweek games last month, will start Saturday’s game, volunteer pitching coach Chris King said.
Also, closer Josh Powell figures to throw one inning in two of the three games against LSU-E, King said.
The idea, of course, is to split up the innings so plenty of pitchers can get in a little work before the SWAC tournament.
As for the position players, Southern could limit time for regulars such as center fielder Wilmy Marrero, third baseman Cameron McGriff and second baseman DeMario Ellis — all of whom played in at least 43 games this season.
One thing is certain: Clint Ourso, who has caught all but two of the Jaguars’ 394 innings, is bound to take an early seat in the dugout this week.
“He is one guy we’ll probably baby a little,” Cador said. “He’s our team captain. We ask a lot of him, and it’s important that we have him ready for the tournament.”