FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Stephen F. Austin head coach Johnny Cardenas announced the schedule for the upcoming 2009 baseball season on Thursday, with five NCAA Tournament teams from 2008 highlighting the slate.
Along with five qualifiers from last year’s national tournament, SFA will square off with four regular season conference champions and four teams that claimed its conference tournament. The ‘Jacks have 22 non-conference games on the slate against teams from the Big 12, Big 10, Conference USA, Mountain West, WAC and SWAC.
“We structure our schedule so that our guys can play the toughest teams in the nation,” Cardenas said. “Our belief as a staff is that if you are a Division I player, that should be your ultimate goal, to compare yourself against some of the top teams in the nation. ”
Overall, SFA will play 25 of its 55 spring games at the renovated Jaycees Field. In addition to the 55 regular-season contests, the Lumberjacks played one fall game on Oct. 21 versus Grambling, however the game does not count on SFA’s 2009 record but does count against its allotment of games.
The ‘Jacks will start the season not far from home on Feb. 21 and 22 in Monroe, La., in the ULM Tournament. There they will be joined by Mississippi Valley State and conference foe Northwestern State, in addition to ULM in rounding out the tournament field. SFA swept the Warhawks in a two-game set midway through the 2008 season before ULM went on to claim the Sun Belt Conference regular season championship after being picked eighth in the preseason.
SFA will return home on Feb. 24 to host Houston, who advanced to the final game of the College Station Regional last season, before heading to Edinburg, Texas, to take part in the Al Ogletree Classic for the third straight season on Feb. 27-March 1. Illinois, UT-Arlington and UTPA will round out the four-team field that SFA managed to go 6-1 against last season.
The ‘Jacks will get little time off as the defending Big 12 champion Texas A&M Aggies loom on March 3-4 in College Station. Last year’s Aggies backed up their 2007 Big 12 Tournament championship by claiming the Big 12 regular season title in 2008, advancing to the Houston Super Regional where they were eliminated by nationally-ranked Rice for the second straight year.
After starting the year with eight of its first nine games at home, SFA will open up its 33-game conference schedule on March 6 with a three-game weekend set at home against Central Arkansas, who SFA has beaten five out of six times in the last two seasons. That will be followed by a home-and-home series with Louisiana Tech on back-to-back days starting March 10 before going to Natchitoches for a conference series with Northwestern State.
SFA then heads to the Bayou City for a date with Houston Baptist before the Huskies return the favor the following day in Nacogdoches, kicking off a four-game homestand for the ‘Jacks that includes a three-game series with Nicholls State starting March 20.
The ‘Jacks then start arguably their most brutal part of the schedule, a 15-game stretch beginning March 24 at TCU. The Horned Frogs have made five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and posted a 44-19 record in 2008 en route to an appearance in the Stillwater Regional. SFA then travels to San Marcos starting March 27 to face Texas State, who is sure to be one of the favorites in the SLC in 2008 and will be looking for revenge after the ‘Jacks swept the Bobcats in Nacogdoches last season.
Another home-and-home with Houston Baptist on March 31 and April 1 will follow before SFA takes on the reigning back-to-back SLC champs, UTSA, in Nacogdoches beginning April 3. That series will provide the prelude to a road trip to Corpus Christi, the site of the 2009 SLC Baseball Tournament, to face the Islanders starting April 10.
SFA closes out that 15-game stretch with a 6:30 p.m. game at perennial Sun Belt Conference power Louisiana-Lafayette on April 14, immediately followed by a noon start time the next day in Nacogdoches for a doubleheader with UT-Pan American.
“Most players come to Division I schools not only to play the top teams and top competition, but also try to better themselves and play professional baseball at the next level,” Cardenas said. “This schedule is very similar to what is played at the next level, especially some of the long stretches we have to go through and that will help a lot of our guys see what it is like.”
Cardenas then will bring his troops back to Nacogdoches following a three-game series at McNeese State and a game at Houston, for its longest homestand of the season beginning April 24. The seven-game stint includes three-game series’ with UT-Arlington and rival Sam Houston State around an April 27 game with Dallas Baptist. Both Sam Houston and Dallas Baptist found their ways into the NCAA Tournament last year, with the Bearkats winning their second consecutive SLC Tournament and the Patriots becoming the first at-large team to be invited in since 1992.
SFA then begins its final push toward the SLC Tournament, starting May 8-10 against Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond. After taking on Baylor in the final non-conference game of the season on May 12, the ‘Jacks gear up for the season finale: a three-game series in Nacogdoches against Lamar.
This year’s SLC Baseball Tournament is scheduled for May 20-23 in at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, home of the Corpus Christi Hooks, the AA affiliate of the Houston Astros.
“Our number one goal is to play hard every game,” Cardenas said. “If we do what we are supposed to do, then being in the conference tournament will take care of itself.”
SFA posted a 25-29 record last season, just missing out on a second straight berth in the SLC Tournament in only its third season back from an 11-year hiatus.