Southland Conference Baseball Tournament Preview
May 25, 2010
By Josh Bowe for utamavs.com
ARLINGTON, Texas - With UT Arlington headed to the Southland Conference Tournament in Corpus Christi Wednesday, UTAMAVS.com has you covered on the entire goings on this week. UTA (27-29, 19-14) enters the tournament as the No. 5 seed and play No. 4 Stephen F. Austin Wednesday (34-18, 20-12) night at 7 p.m.
WHY UTA WILL WIN THE TOURNAMENT
Don't let the overall record fool you. The Mavericks have had one of the hardest non-conference schedules in all the Southland. Oklahoma, TCU, Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are some of the best teams in the country year in and year out and the Mavericks faced every one of them.
With that in mind, the Mavericks are almost built for post-season baseball. They have three starters with ace material (Jason Mitchell, Rett Varner and Logan Bawcom) an All-American bat (Michael Choice) and a veteran backstop (Chad Comer).
UTA has been able to navigate a streaky lineup behind Choice to give the starters decent run support. The team's .295 batting average and .371 on-base percentage isn't anything to write home about compared to some of the Southland powers, but it's enough behind a frontline rotation that coach Darin Thomas says he "wouldn't trade with anybody."
WHY UTA WON'T WIN THE TOURNAMENT
Notice the use of almost built for the post-season? There's a tricky problem the Mavericks haven't been able to keep secret: the bullpen. UTA's relief crop of pitchers hasn't had as much success as the starters this season to say the least. Brian Watson has the lowest ERA of any reliever with more than five appearances and it's not a very clean one at 6.10. Logan Bawcom has been the closer on occasion and leads the team with three saves. With Bawcom starting it will be hard for Thomas to be able to lean on him to close games out. If the Maverick relievers can right themselves for the tournament they should be in great shape.
MAVERICK PLAYERS TO WATCH
Michael Choice: .383 avg./.568 on-base percentage/1.275 on-base plus slugging/16 home runs
Obvious, no? Choice has been practically a one-man show for UTA. He's leading the Mavericks in practically every offensive category (including stolen bases with 12). The future potential top 10 MLB draft pick will hopefully be able to see some pitches to hit (nation leading 71 walks, 21 of those intentional).
Jason Mitchell: 4.15 ERA/107 strikeouts/.274 opponents batting average/five complete games
Despite the fact that Mitchell lost his ERA and win lead to Rett Varner, Mitchell might be the most important pitcher on the Maverick's roster. Varner was expected to be the ace of the staff with improvement from Mitchell a must. Coach Darin Thomas got that and more as Mitchell set the UTA single season strikeout record. If Mitchell isn't working his best stuff, the Mavericks won't be staying in Corpus Christi for too long.
Preston Beck: .353/.403/.855/
The freshman from Dallas is expected to be a quality arm for Maverick's pitching staff next year and he sure is taking advantage of his one year to hit. Batting primarily in the vaunted four spot (behind Choice) Beck has exceeded expectations by being second on the Mavericks in batting average and on-base percentage. The lack of power might be a concern (only 15 extra base hits) but if the Mavericks are scoring runs, look at Beck after you look at Choice's monster home runs in the box score.
TOURNAMENT TEAM PREVIEWS
No. 1 Texas State (34-20, 23-10)
Texas State enters the tournament as the number one seed and with good reason. Besides handling the Southland Conference, Texas State has some impressive non-conference wins against Baylor, Houston, Texas Tech and losing to Texas twice by a single run. The Bobcats expect a bid in the NCAA Tournament even with an SLC Tournament loss like they did last year. (No. 2 seed at Austin Regional last year despite losing SLC Tournament title game.)
Players to watch: RHP Carson Smith - 9-3 with a 2.69 ERA, 90 strikeouts, .227 opponents batting average with six complete games...First baseman Kyle Livingstone - .373 average, 10 home runs, 60 RBI, 1.001 OPS...Third baseman Kyle Kubitza - .351 average, 10 home runs, 50 RBI, 1.040 OPS.
No. 2 Northwestern State (36-19, 22-10)
The Demons could be the hottest team into the tournament, sweeping Southeastern Louisiana on the road to end the season. NWSU features one of the better pitching staffs in all of the Southland with a team ERA of 3.87. The team can hit too with a team batting average of .322. Luke Irvine dueled UTA's Jason Mitchell in the teams first match-up of the year, a 3-1 Maverick victory. Irvine went six innings allowing two runs and striking out 11 while Mitchell went for a complete game while striking out six. The Demons also feature the conference's top defensive catcher in Aaron Munoz.
Players to watch: RHP Luke Irvine - 7-4, 2.87 ERA, 99 strikeouts, .258 opponents batting average...Outfielder Eric DeBlanc - .397 average, six home runs, 39 RBI, 1.027 OPS...Closer Chad Sheppard - 2-0, 10 saves, 3.23 ERA, 49 strikeouts, .222 opponents batting average.
No. 3 Southeastern Louisiana (39-17, 21-12)
The Lions are a particularly dangerous team that people shouldn't sleep on. Southeastern started the season hot, eventually earning a ranking of No. 22 in the national polls. A slide in the middle of their season was cleaned up towards the end despite being swept by Northwestern State. The team had a shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last year but fell short due to their non-conference record, something that could bite them again if they fail to win the SLC Tournament crown this year. Interesting fact: infielder Josh Cryer has been hit by a pitch over 21 times this year.
Players to watch: RHP Chris Franklin - 8-5, seven saves, 3.55 ERA, 78 strikeouts, .257 opponents batting average...Outfielder Jeff Harkensee - .320 average, five home runs, 42 RBI, 24 doubles, .909 OPS...Shortstop Justin Boudreaux - .315 average, 13 home runs, 66 RBI, .974 OPS.
No. 4 Stephen F. Austin (34-18, 20-12)
If you aren't hitting .300, you probably aren't in the Lumberjack lineup. No, seriously. SFA features one of, if not the, best hitting teams in the Southland. The Lumberjacks have 10 players who hit over .300 and nine regulars who hit over .320. This is the highest seed SFA has been in the tournament's history after being an eight seed last year. This will be UTA and SFA's ninth meeting in the first round over the last two seasons. As with UTA, SFA's main concern will be giving the ball to a shaky bullpen that has its fair share of losses. The first match up on Wednesday will be a rematch of Jason Mitchell and Tyler Herriage. Mitchell bested Herriage by throwing a complete game shutout and seven strikeouts while Herriage went 7.2 innings and striking out eight with no earned runs on May 7.
Players to watch: LHP Tyler Herriage - 8-3, 2.39 ERA, 66 strikeouts, .231 opponents batting average...Outfielder Garrett Smith - .373 average, three home runs, 29 RBI, .974 OPS, 14 stolen bases...DH/First baseman Darren Crabtree - .323 average, 10 home runs, 49 RBI, 1.045 OPS.
No. 6 McNeese State (29-25, 16-17)
If you're talking about the Cowboys, the conversation must start with shortstop Jace Peterson. Peterson should be the top overall MLB prospect that is returning to school next year because of his versatility. He can hit, run, field and steal bases. McNeese has a serviceable lineup that will have to back up a worrisome pitching staff. Jaden Dillon is the only consistent pitcher the Cowboys have had all season as they have a team ERA of 6.49.
Players to watch: Shortstop Jace Peterson - .356 average, four home runs, 47 EBI, .957 OPS, 34 stolen bases in 39 attempts...Jaden Dillon - 8-0, 4.40 ERA, 40 strikeouts, .252 opponents batting average...Outfielder Lee Orr - .297 average, 16 home runs, 52 RBI, 1.005 OPS, 62 strikeouts.
No. 7 Lamar (31-24, 16-17)
On March 28 the Cardinals were 2-7 in the Southland Conference. It's a miracle they made it into the tournament, finishing conference play 14-10 since then to squeak in, including a six game conference-winning streak towards the end of April. Lamar coach Jim Gilligan is one of the best in the conference, sporting 1,173 victories entering the tournament. Gilligan has won the SLC tournament four times, so it's safe to say he knows how to navigate the setting and handle pressure situations.
Players to watch: RHP Matison Smith - 9-3, 4.33 ERA, 60 strikeouts, .296 opponents batting average...Second baseman Andy Mena - .350 average, two home runs, 34 RBI, .868 OPS.
No. 8 Nicholls (26-27, 15-18)
This is the first time Nicholls has made the tournament in 10 years. A lot of that success this season has to do with starting pitcher Clint Dempster, who finished with 100 strikeouts including a 16-strikeout performance against Southeastern Louisiana on April 30. Looking for a Cinderella story? The Colonels took two of three from Texas State not so long ago during the middle of May. Dempster struck out eight in a 7-3 victory. The Bobcats will have to find a way to crack Dempster if they wish to avoid making history the wrong way.
Players to watch: LHP Clint Dempster - 5-6, 4.08 ERA, 100 strikeouts, .250 opponents batting average...INF/OF Adam Miley - .317, eight home runs, 48 RBI, .899 OPS.