No Easy Button; SAGU at #8 LSUS
Lions have tall order in slowing down potent Pilots
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- They're not ordering office supplies, but their challenge is obvious.
The Southwestern Assemblies of God University baseball team begins a three-game series this evening against the highest-scoring team in the nation, Louisiana State University at Shreveport. By scoring 10.1 runs per game the Pilots (27-8, 17-1 in RRAC) are the #8 ranked team in this week's NAIA Coaches Poll.
There is no "Easy Button" to push for the Lions' young pitching staff. While Head Coach Greg Hayes has seen his squad lower their combined ERA (earned run average) from a porous 10.00 a year ago to a much more manageable 7.33 this season, they have their work cut out for them. The Pilots has reached double figures in 11 of their 18 league games in the Red River Athletic Conference.
Hayes will send senior left-hander Cameron Ward (Mansfield, Tx / Grace Prep), 3-2 this season, to the mound in today's 6:00pm opener. A tall order awaits the crafty southpaw. LSUS has the #11 team batting average in the country at .342. After getting off to a 3-5 start, the River Boat bats have fueled a 24-3 run against one of America's toughest conferences.
Northwood University is rated #12, while UT-Brownsville and Texas Wesleyan give the RRAC four ranked ballclubs, most of them known for their big bats.
Breaking Down the Match-Up
SAGU (8-22, 3-18) will have sophomore Nic Morgan (Ft. Worth, Tx / LaTourneau, Boswell HS) hurl the first game on Saturday. Morgan is a wiry 6-foot-3, 160-pound lefty has enjoyed several impressive outings of late.
Pitching coach Clay Scarborough had not reached a decision on who would get the nod in the series finale on Friday. Jared Jones (Copperas Cove, Tx / Copperas Cove HS) is a talented member in the rotation. The righthander who had an outstanding performance in a 3-2 win over Howard Payne University two weeks ago, could miss the series.
Jones, who has a .311 batting average and anchors the infield at shortstop when he isn't pitching, fouled a pitch off of his left foot during Tuesday's exhibition game against Arlington Baptist College. X-rays were pending. Scarborough has several options, including a committee effort by the entire bullpen.
As a team, SAGU bats a respectable .283, which rates #109 of 205 teams in the NAIA. They must be productive against the Pilots' staff, whose team ERA of 5.44, which is #131 in the nation.
Players to Watch
LSU-Shreveport (enrollment: 4,600), in their first season in the RRAC, is led by coach Rocke Musgraves. In his 12th year at the helm, Musgraves has a career 443-237 mark, winning over 65% of his games. The Pilots, 48-13 in 2010, have won over 40 games in five straight seasons. LSUS had three players drafted by the major leagues last spring.
The Pilots are paced by two batters, Kevin Smith and Andrew Brouillette. Smith is #3 in the NAIA in batting, toting a .480 average. He has the #1 slugging percentage (.951), is #2 in RBI's (46) and #5 in homers (11).
Brouillette has 12 round-trippers, which is #3 in the NAIA, 43 ribbies and a .365 average. The Pilots have 17 players on their team with a batting average of .300 or better.
SAGU is not without tools of their own. Senior rightfield Patrick Wherland (Petrolia, Tx / Petrolia HS) speaks softly and carries a big stick.
With a .429 club, he is the #38 ranked batter among the NAIA's 1,500+ batters. Wherland is also #11 in base hits (51). He leads the Lions in runs batted in with 28 and is tied with freshman Jared Denton (Mission, Tx / Sharyland HS) for the lead in HR's with three. Denton bats .292 and has 20 RBI.
Sophomore first baseman DuJuan Prater (Copperas Cove, Tx / Copperas Cove HS) also bats .292 and has 24 RBI.
Southwestern's table-setter is at leadoff, Dustin Jett (Patterson, La / Patterson HS). The junior centerfielder has been hot of late and currently swings a .336 piece of lumber. He is #19 in the NAIA in stolen bases with 19. The ragin' Cajun has only been caught once. The mercurial flash has turned in a handful of defensive gems in the outfield where his speed and daring dives have robbed many of base hits.
On the Road Again
The Lions are in the middle of a tough stretch of their schedule with 14 of 15 games on the road. On Tuesday, April 5, they return to action by traveling southwest 135 miles to Brownwood, Texas to play at Howard Payne University. SAGU split with the Yellow Jackets 10 days ago.