FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
THIBODAUX – The Nicholls State University baseball team, after nearly doubling its regular season and conference win totals in 2009, released its 2010 schedule on Wednesday, and with 12 of their first 15 contests at home, head coach Chip Durham hopes the Colonels will be able to build momentum toward a run at a Southland Conference Tournament berth.
The 2009 season marked a solid year of progress for Nicholls baseball as the Colonels went 19-32 (9-23 Southland Conference). Nicholls finished one victory shy of doubling its 2008 overall and conference win totals. Meanwhile, the Colonels posted their best overall and conference win totals since 2005, and the Nicholls pitching staff finished fourth in the league in ERA, improving from 11th place in 2008.
However, after finishing 5.0 games out of their first Southland Conference Tournament appearance since 2000, the Colonels are hoping a stretch of early home games can help them get off on the right foot this season.
"We finished fourth in the conference in pitching, and we might be an even better pitching staff this year," head coach Chip Durham said. "We didn’t execute as well as we needed to offensively and defensivley last year, so if we can execute better in those areas, I think at the end of the day, I see this team in the Southland Conference Tournament. That’s really what it’s about for us. If we execute, our pitching and defense should give our offense a chance to find its identity. That will give us a chance to keep winning conference games, which is the most important thing for us."
The Colonels open on with a three-game set against in-state rival Louisiana-Lafayette, the first meeting between the schools since 2007. Nicholls opens on the road with a pair of games at M.L. Tigue Moore Field on Feb. 19 and 20 before returning home to round out the series at Ray E. Didier Field in Thibodaux for the 2010 home opener on Feb. 21.
"Last season we opened up on the road with teams like Alabama and Mississippi State," Durham said. "That was definitely a challenge. Being able to play at home early in the season should be able to get us some momentum and get us ready for the grind of the Southland Conference schedule. We open in Lafayette, and that’s always a tough challenge. Those guys will let us know where we stand early on. But we feel like, if we execute and do what we need to do, we have a good chance to get some wins early on and get our guys plenty of work before the start of the conference season."
The home opener against the Cajuns also opens an eight-game homestand, the Colonels longest of the season, as Nicholls will then host the 2010 Big Boy Classic sponsored by Hampton Inn.
The Colonels will welcome out-of-state foes Tennessee-Martin, Houston Baptist and Northeast Conference member Bryant of Rhode Island. The four squads will square off in a three-day stretch from Feb. 26-28 to determine the early-season tournament champion.
A pair of games against NCAA Division II Arkansas-Monticello (March 2-3) will then give way to a three-game series against 2009 Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Southern.
The Colonels will host a double-header with the 2009 NCAA Regional qualifying Jaguars on March 6 before heading to Baton Rouge for the finale on March 7. The two squads will lock horns once more for a midweek contest on March 30 in Thibodaux.
Nicholls then returns home for a final pre-conference season tune-up against LSU-Alexandria on March 9 followed by the Colonels’ 2010 Southland Conference opener against 2009 Southland Conference Tournament semifinalist Lamar.
Nicholls hosts the Cardinals for a three-game stretch March 12-14 before hitting the road for a four-game stretch beginning with a trip to LSU on March 17.
The Colonels will look for a repeat of 2008’s upset over the then-No. 1 ranked, and eventual national champion, Tigers. Nicholls used eight pitchers in a 3-1 win over LSU at Alex Box Stadium on April 15, 2008. However, the Colonels know that they can expect a major challenge from the perennial national power.
Nicholls follows its tilt with LSU with the Colonels’ first Southland Conference road trip. The Colonels will make their longest bus ride of the season to Corpus Christi, Texas to take on the Texas A&M-CC Islanders March 19-21.
The Southland Conference season will be in full swing as the Colonels will host three-game sets against Stephen F. Austin (March 26-28), Northwestern State (April 9-11) and defending regular season champion Texas State (May 14-16), while visiting Texas-Arlington (April 1-3), Central Arkansas (April 16-18), three-time defending tournament champion Sam Houston State (April 23-25) and McNeese State (May 20-22).
Once again, the Colonels and their nearest conference rival will split a three-game set as Nicholls hosts Southeastern Louisiana on April 30 and May 2 while visiting the Lions in Hammond on May 1.
"We have a lot of long road trips this year," Durham said. "And that’s something that our guys are going to have to endure. That’s one of the reasons that we’re happy to be playing so much at home early on. It will give our new guys a chance to get comfortable with Division I baseball before the grind of the season starts. If we’re going to get to the tournament, we’re going to have to be able to endure. Our new guys will have to pick things up right away."
Adding to the grind of the conference season will be midweek contests against regional and national powers such as Tulane (in New Orleans on April 6), South Alabama (in Mobile on April 13 and in Thibodaux on April 27) and the University of New Orleans (in Thibodaux on April 21 and in New Orleans on May 11).
"We’re playing some very tough teams during midweek games this year," Durham said. "There are a lot of tough out of conference games this year. Playing competition like that is going to help our players see where they are and where we need to get to. The ultimate goal is that playing those teams is going to make us a lot tougher and more prepared for our conference games."
If all goes according to plan, the Colonels will make their second trip of the season to Corpus Christi for the 2010 Southland Conference baseball tournament beginning May 26.