NEW ORLEANS — This probably isn’t the way to you want to prepare for the best team in the country. And it certainly isn’t the way you want to start a season.
The UNO baseball team suffered a season-opening sweep at the hands of Southeast Missouri State over the weekend, the final loss a 11-2 shellacking by the Redhawks on Sunday afternoon at Wesley Barrow Stadium.
Now the Privateers (0-3) travel to Arkansas, where they’ll face the No. 1 team in the country in the Razorbacks for a two-game set Tuesday and Wednesday. Talk about a brutal start to a fresh campaign.
UNO coach Bruce Peddie tried to be as positive as possible after such a disheartening opening series.
“It’s a rough start, but it was a good thing for our younger guys to experience,” Peddie said. “We just didn’t do good enough. We’re better than that.”
Over the three-game series, the Privateers were outscored 24-7 and, in Saturday and Sunday’s games, became the victim of outstanding SEMO pitching. On Saturday, SEMO pitcher Zack Smith held the Privateers to five hits and struck out 10 in the Redhawks’ 6-1 victory. On Sunday, SEMO’s Will Spitzfaden tossed a dominant, complete-game 11-2 victory over the Privateers, who again struggled at the plate.
In Sunday’s series finale, left fielder Andre Damiens led UNO in his first start of the season, going 3-for-3. First baseman Zacary Hawkins added two hits and an RBI for the Privateers, while designated hitter Jonathan Coco hit a solo home run.
“(The Redhawks) played pretty good baseball, but when you don’t make the plays, you’re definitely not going to win,” Damiens said. “We need to figure some things out and cut down on our physical and mental errors. We just have to play better, sound baseball.”
Although the Privateers outhit the Redhawks .279 to .253, SEMO topped UNO in on-base percentage, .375 to .347. One of the keys to the Redhawks’ sweep was walks: SEMO pitchers issued only five, while the Privateers gave up 14. At the plate, UNO couldn’t come up with the clutch hit, leaving a total of 26 runners on base, including 20 over the first two games of the series.
The series opened Friday, when the Privateers got solid pitching efforts from starter Stone Speer and middle relievers Jordan Fontenelle and Raymond Winter, but closer Garrett Manning surrendered four runs in the ninth to give SEMO a 7-4, come-from-behind victory.
Saturday, UNO starter Alex Smith gave up five earned runs en route to a 6-1 Redhawks win. On offense, the Privateers were held to seven scattered hits, including only one extra-base hit, a solo home run by Chaz Boyer.
Things won’t get any better for UNO. Tuesday and Wednesday see two road games at the top-ranked Razorbacks.
“I’m just looking for our first win,” Peddie said. “We play the No. 1 team, and if (the first win) comes against (Arkansas), great. We just have to go in there and battle and maintain a strong focus.”
Hawkins had similar thoughts. “We need to be more consistent,” he said. “We just have to trust our coaching staff. They’ll have us prepared. We’re playing the best team in the country, and whether we can win depends on whether or not we execute and stay focused.”
“(The Razorbacks) are going to come out thirsty (for success),” he said. “This bus ride (to Fayetteville) will really help us think, ‘Hey, it’s time to go.’”