Baseball Lions seek strong finish
Double-dip with Jackets rained out
Pilots coach speaks candidly about SAGU
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- The start of the regular season for Major League Baseball arrives this Easter weekend. College baseball teams, however, begin the stretch drive in their 2012 campaign.
Southwestern Assemblies of God University, whose rescheduled doubleheader at LeTourneau University set for this evening in Longview, has been rained out, are preparing to wind-up instead of wind-down in the final month.
Originally, the Lions (11-22 record) and Yellowjackets (11-17) had a twinbill postponed (February 15) due to fog after SAGU had taken a 5-2 lead in the first game. Conditions deteriorated rapidly while the Jax were at bat.
SAGU had planned to start left-handers Zach Worrell (Ft. Worth, Tx / Central Christian College, LD Bell HS) and Nic Morgan (Ft. Worth, Tx / LeTourneau Univ, Boswell HS).
Southwestern has been able to develop a deeper bullpen over the past month, and can call upon a handful of hurlers to eat-up-innings from the hill.
RHP John Savis (Canton, Tx / Canton HS), RHP Rockie Davis (Santa Fe, Tx / Santa Fe HS) and LHP Robert Elles (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS) go along with Morgan and Worrell.
Mario Mendoza (Ft. Worth, Tx / Grambling State Univ, Poly HS) has battled back from an elbow injury. The LHP may get to pitch in the closing weeks, though starting isn't likely. )) has battled back
Seeking Post-Season Life
While a berth in the Red River Athletic Conference tournament appears out of reach, post-season play remains possible.
The National Christian College Athletic Association’s national tournament begins with the Central Regional in the Denver area during May 3-5. Southwestern needs several wins in April to receive an invitation.
Should SAGU qualify, the decision will be announced by the Athletic Department. The NCCAA Nationals is played near Cincinnati during May 16-19.
SAGU meets Dallas Christian College on Tuesday, April 10, and has just three home tilts remaining – all with the University of the Southwest. The series will be played at the Waxahachie Sports Complex on Friday and Saturday, April 13-14.
A “Senior Day” ceremony, recognizing the contributions of nine senior players, will be held that Saturday.
The Lions hope to announce the rescheduling of three home games against Huston-Tillotson University (4-22 record). They were rained out on Feb. 17-18.
SAGU is 2-7 against the Rams, whose campus is located in downtown Austin, Texas. The winner of the series will probably finish in ninth place in the RRAC.
River Pilots navigating the Red River
Louisiana State University in Shreveport (30-3, 17-3 in RRAC) is in position to win the league title for the second year in a row, equaling their number of years as a member in the RRAC.
They have two major series awaiting; April when they tangle with Texas at Brownsville (25-17, 13-5 in RRAC) during April 13-14, and Texas Wesleyan University (28-12, 14-6 in league play) on April 20-21. Both series are at home.
The Pilots swept the fourth place team, Northwood University (19-12-1, 9-5-1 in RRAC), last month.
A year ago the 2011 Pilots advanced to the NAIA World Series / Final Four, played annually in Lewiston, Idaho, for the second time in the past decade.
In their first trip to the World Series in 2003, LSU-Shreveport finished third in the nation with a school record 52 wins.
The Pilots' head coach for 13 years, Rocke Musgraves (49) spoke about his team, now ranked #1 in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (as of April 3) and about SAGU as well following their series against the Lions over the weekend.
Comparing this year’s edition of his River Pilots to the 47-15 club that was ranked #6 in the NAIA last season, Musgraves pointed out “…that pitching is definitely our strength,” a unit that has a 2.60 earned run average.
“Our position players are much more balanced,” he continued. “Plus, we are able to find different ways to score runs rather than sitting back and waiting on a (someone to hit a) 3-run homer.”
Musgraves' assessment of SAGU
As for the Lions, whom his team struggled to defeat until they pulled away in the late innings, he saw favorable improvement.
“The biggest difference that I saw in this year’s team (compared to last year’s team) was the talent,” Musgraves stated. “This team has more tools to work with. There were some hitters in their lineup that we really struggled getting out. We were throwing some good pitches up there and they were doing a good job of making solid contact.”
A graduate of Westmont College (Santa Barbara, Cal), he praised the Lions for their upgraded play in the series.
“I felt that this year’s SAGU team, in two of the games (in the three-game series), was one hit a way, two hits away or maybe even one play away from winning a game or making it a game. If they can find a way to start believing in themselves, I think that they are a lot closer than they were (before).”
When asked about specifics, Coach Musgraves cited SAGU’s strength up the middle.
“The (Dustin) Jett* kid was the one that stood out the most to me,” he said the senior centerfielder. “He got some great jumps on balls heading to the gap and was able to run them down. Anytime a ball was headed his way, I knew the chance of us getting on (base) was not good. He can cover some ground out there!”
“Their catcher (sophomore Jared Denton) is very solid,” he added, “and I thought the two middle guys (freshmen Jacob Spivey and Donovan Vess), with a little more intensity, can be very good. They have the tools.”
As for the enhanced pitching staff, which has seen SAGU cut their ERA almost in half in two years, the coach was quick to mention the play of Worrell, John Savis (Canton, Tx / Canton HS) and seniors Morgan and Tim Kolczak* (San Antonio, Tx / F.E.A.S.T., Taft HS) .
“With a freshman like that (Worrell), that’s really big for their future. He’s really got a chance. The ball comes out of his hand really well. He’s what we call sneaky-fast.”
“I was also really impressed with Savis. (He’s just a) sophomore. With (his) size, if he can develop a little more velocity to go with that hard breaking ball, he is going to be able to do some damage too.”
“And Morgan can be very frustrating as a hitter to face because he keeps you off balance. I really think the future bodes well for SAGU with starters Worrell and Savis. Plus, they have a real solid closer (Kolczak) as well.”
With a current 473-240 (.663) career coaching mark in Shreveport, Musgraves knows a few things about winning at the collegiate level. He made some observations about Southwestern’s first year skipper, Jonathan Shockley.
“I had the opportunity to visit with Jon before the game; he seems like a good man with Christ in his heart and I was really impressed with that,” he quipped.
“Anytime you have that going for you, good things are more likely to happen. It will be interesting to see the (recruits) he brings in over the next few years.”
Chavo: "Bravo to the 2012 Lions!"
Senior outfielder Ben Chavez, one of the team’s tri-captains, shared his own views about the Lions.
In his second season after transferring the New Mexico Military Institute, Chavo declared "…this year we have a better team as a whole.”
“We have improved all the way around with the addition of new team members as well as guys who have been here for a while that are stepping up. I also feel like we have great leadership from the top down."
Tuning in to the SAGU Sports Network
Before the interview ended, Coach Musgraves made a point to praise Southwestern on a few fronts.
“I really have a high impression of SAGU,” he continued, “especially their journalism department. We were able to watch their basketball games on the internet (SAGUtv). It was an absolute pleasure!”
“Listening to their classy announcers (Clay Scarborough and Tim Roberts) was great! I really enjoyed that and feel it is a positive part to the Red River Athletic Conference.
They have a lot of great things going for them and dealing with SAGU is a pleasure in and of itself.”
Special thanks to Mark Cantrell, LSU-Shreveport S.I.D., for his contributions to this article.
*Tri-Captains: Ben Chavez, Dustin Jett and Tim Kolczak.