Privateers face challenging slate in return to Division I

“The kids know what they’re up against. ... We have to beat the teams we should beat, and hopefully we’ll sneak in a few wins against the better teams.” Bruce Peddie, UNO coach

NEW ORLEANS — University of New Orleans baseball coach Bruce Peddie has no illusions about the outlook for his team’s season.

With one of the most challenging schedules in the country and a program that’s in transition to the Division I Southland Conference, Peddie’s crew will have its hands full. But Peddie and his charges said they’re up to the task when their season opens Friday as they host Southeast Missouri State.

“We’re going to be ready,” Peddie said confidently.

Senior pitcher Stone Speer said: “We’re ready to go out there and prove some things to people.”

Peddie said he believes the Privateers’ starting rotation will be heavy on velocity, especially at the top, where Speer, a southpaw, and junior right-hander Darron McKigney, a junior college transfer, will anchor a list of starters that includes sophomore Alex Smith and freshman Daniel Martinez.

Peddie is expecting big things from Speer, a team leader who sets the athletic and emotional tone for the squad.

“The kids gravitate to him,” Peddie said. “A lot of it comes from the fact that he’s been so dominant. He’s really matured as a senior, and he’s clear about his goals. When he’s saying something and (they) see how much he wants it, they believe they can really go out there and win. That’s what the kids see in him.”

The Privateers’ bullpen is also full of potential, with returnees Kyle Blancaneaux, Garrett Manning and Cameron Glendinning, all right-handers.

At the plate, expect UNO to offer a blend of speed, skill and power.

“We have a couple ways to get runs,” Peddie said. “Teams know they’ll see different things from us.”

Peddie is confident in freshman center fielder and leadoff man Chaz Boyer, while the second slot could be filled by junior shortstop James Boddicker.

The heart of the lineup — junior first-baseman Zacary Hawkins, cleanup hitter and junior catcher Brian Dixon, and junior Reese Kanter, who will probably DH at the start of the campaign — can all hit the long ball.

Peddie said the bottom of the lineup will be speedy, with junior outfielder Morgan Barger, senior second baseman Zach Pohto, sophomore third baseman Seth Laigast and senior left-fielder Dan Perkins.

Like most Peddie squads, defense will be stressed from the beginning.

The Privateers have been battling injuries during preseason practice, including the periodic absences of Hawkins, Boddicker, Dixon and junior catcher Cameron Keener. But the physical woes are gradually healing, Peddie said, and injuries shouldn’t be a hindrance for long.

Also facing UNO is a temporary move from its natural grass home at Maestri Field to the nearby newly renovated Wesley Barrow Stadium, a turf facility, while Maestri undergoes yearlong renovations.

Finally, the Privateers will have their hands full when it comes to opponents, several of whom are ranked in various preseason polls. That includes road games against Arkansas, Oklahoma, Southern Miss and LSU, as well as three clashes with crosstown rival Tulane.

But the Privateers believe such a challenging slate will steel them for their move next year to the Southland Conference. This season, UNO has been bumped back up to the NCAA Division I level, but the Privateers will play as an independent team for a year.

“It’ll be tough, especially when we get on the road,” Speer said of his team’s schedule. “But we’re trying not to focus on that. We’re trying to go out and play one at a time.

“We’re looking forward to being back in Division I, and the coaches are working hard to get us ready,” he added. “The mentality of this team is good. We have a lot of guys who like to compete.”

Peddie said: “The kids know what they’re up against. But we also have those games where we have to go out and get. We’ve got to do the job in front of us. We have to beat the teams we should beat, and hopefully we’ll sneak in a few wins against the better teams, which will set us up for the future. It’ll kind of be a barometer for us as we move forward.”