With SWAC tournament looming, Southern faces LSU-Eunice

Southern will open play in the Southwestern Athletic Conference baseball tournament next week — but before then, the
Jaguars will have their annual tuneup series against LSU-Eunice, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II power, this weekend at Lee-Hines Field.

The series gets underway at
6 p.m. Friday, and all three games are exhibition affairs. They will not affect either team’s record.

But like any other year, Southern coach Roger Cador knows his Jaguars (20-21) will have their hands full.

“They are the second-best team in Louisiana, behind LSU-Baton Rouge,” Cador said of Southern’s opponent. “I know they’re a very quality team. They get good kids. They really get good kids. I hope our fans would be educated enough to realize we’re playing somebody special.”

Calling the Bengals the state’s second-best outfit is high praise, considering Louisiana-Lafayette and Southeastern Louisiana, a pair of four-year Division I schools, have combined to win 64 games this season and are both contending for berths in the NCAA tournament.

But it’s not a stretch, given that LSUE (45-8) is ranked first nationally in the NJCAA Division II poll and will be looking to claim its fifth junior-college national championship in eight years.

The weekend rotation includes a pair of LSU signees in Brady Domangue (12-2, 1.36 ERA) and Zac Person (8-2, 2.55), and LSUE coach Jeff Willis expects the third weekend starter — freshman Chad Reeves (8-0, 3.14) — to be the first Bengal selected in the Major League baseball draft this summer.

Sophomore infielder Casey Rodrigue, an Indiana signee, is batting .368 with four homers and 48 RBIs. His 61 steals are a single-season school record.

Freshman outfielder Tyler Chapman is hitting .342 with five homers and 36 RBIs.

Adam Angelle, a ULL signee, was named the NJCAA Division II Player of the Week after hitting .571 with two doubles and a triple in LSUE’s sweep of Panola College last weekend.

Shortstop Garrett Deschamp, a Parkview Baptist graduate, has signed with Tulane. Catcher Evan Powell is an LSU transfer.

“I think it’s going to be a good test because they always have a pretty good team,” Southern infielder/designated hitter Kevin Williams said. “They will play us hard, and they will help us get ready for the (SWAC) tournament.”

The SWAC tournament gets underway Wednesday in Fort Worth, Texas. Southern, which finished its Western Division schedule April 28, wrapped up the No. 1 seed from the West when Prairie View took two of three games from Arkansas-Pine Bluff last weekend.

Starting pitching has been Southern’s strength since the start of the year, but only in recent weeks have the Jaguars begun to get the bats going.

Southern is averaging 6.4 runs over its last 11 games.

Meanwhile, senior Jesse “Doc” Holiday, junior Jose De Leon and senior Danny Garcia have continued to give the Jaguars quality starts on a consistent basis.

But with an eye on getting ready for the SWAC tournament, Cador said neither Holiday nor De Leon will see any action this weekend.

Garcia will start Friday night, and freshman Camilo Godoy, the usual midweek starter, the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

Cador is undecided on a Game 3 starter.

Willis said he will go with his usual rotation of Domangue, Person and Reeves, in that order, but that he would have all three starters on a strict pitch count.

LSUE, the reigning NJCAA Division II national champion, opens its postseason Thursday as the Region 23 tournament begins.

In their only action of the season against a Division I opponent, Willis said the Bengals have just as much to gain from the experience as Southern.

“Being able to play against a four-year institution, you’re talking about older players — juniors and seniors and, sometimes, fifth-year seniors,” Willis said. “It brings a different mindset and maturity level to the plate.”