Jaguars will have time to heal before postseason run
Nasty weather wiped out Southern’s three-game exhibition series against LSU-Eunice this weekend, robbing the Jaguars of a chance to do some fine-tuning before heading to Fort Worth, Texas, for the Southwestern Athletic Conference baseball tournament.
The teams had planned to play once Friday and twice Saturday until rain storms interfered.
The silver lining, Southern coach Roger Cador said, is that a couple more days off gave the Jaguars (20-21) even more time to rest players they hope to soon have back.
“We’re getting everybody back at the right time,” Cador said.
Injuries played a role in Southern’s position as a SWAC tournament bubble team with only two weekends remaining on its Western Division schedule.
But when the Jaguars — who rallied to win the West title and earn a No. 1 seed in the SWAC tournament — begin play against East No. 4 seed Alabama A&M on Wednesday in Fort Worth, Cador said junior outfielder Sean Washington may be the only regular starter missing from the lineup.
Washington is questionable for the postseason with a lingering shin injury.
Cador expected to have junior outfielder D.J. Wallace back in the lineup for the exhibition series against LSUE, but said the weekend off gave the 6-foot-3, 220-pound slugger more time to heal. Wallace has played in only a handful of games this season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Instead of easing him back, Cador said Wallace will play right field and bat in the middle of the Southern lineup.
“We feel really good about him being able to help us,” Cador said.
Senior shortstop Jeremy Lopez (ankle) and sophomore catcher Fernando Morales (leg) are also expected back after battling injuries much of the season.
Cador hopes a healthier lineup will help the Jaguars avoid a fate in the SWAC tournament similar to last year, when they entered as the No. 1 seed from the West and had the advantage of playing on their home diamond.
Southern was upset by Mississippi Valley in its opener, then lost again to the Delta Devils two days later. Just like that, the Jaguars were gone from NCAA tournament contention.
The opener this year comes against an Alabama A&M team with an uninspiring resume.
The Bulldogs (8-39) won only two nonconference games all season. During a six-day stretch in mid-March, they lost two games to Arkansas by 31 runs, then lost four more to New Mexico State by a 79-16 margin.
Five of their six SWAC East wins came against Valley, which went 5-44 overall and knocked off A&M for its only win in division play.
“It’s important that we win the first game,” Cador said. “That’s our focus right now.”
Southern’s game against Alabama A&M is the third of four Wednesday and gets underway at 3 p.m. The winner will play at 3 p.m. Thursday; the loser at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Cador said he will go with senior left-hander Jesse “Doc” Holiday in the opener and with junior right-hander Jose De Leon in the second game. Senior right-hander Danny Garcia would pitch for Southern in a third game.
Jackson State, which went 19-5 in SWAC East play, is the tournament’s other No. 1 seed.
“I think it’s a balanced tournament,” Cador said. “I don’t know if anybody really has an advantage. It’s all going to come down to who gets the best pitching.”