Last season was all about Texas State. The Bobcats went in with the top pitcher, and found out quickly they also had the top hitter in the Southland. RHP Carson Smith is gone, but 1B Casey Kalenkosky, an NJCAA All-American turned NCAA All-American, is back for another round. Coach Ty Harrington only lost a few starters on the field, and returned a strong nucleus of hitters to go along with a pitching staff that was more than capable of getting the team to the NCAA postseason.
Texas State isn’t the only strong team in the Southland Conference. Southeastern Louisiana is back, while Stephen F. Austin is looking to make some noise again. The Lions managed to keep speedy SS Brock Hebert a secret, but now he is a known commodity that can steal any base, anytime. The Lumberjacks return C Jarid Scarafiotti, as well as ace pitcher Zack Taylor.
The next three teams are all close in talent, but not as stocked as the favorites. UTSA returns slugger Ryan Dalton and two-way star Casey Selsor. Dalton has never had a problem with his bat, while Selsor was the team’s top arm. The Mark Johnson era has given way to the David Pierce era in Hunstville. Pierce, a former pitching coach at Rice, lost some key components to graduation, but was graced with a team full of young talent, and 2011 Texas Class 5A Player of the Year Brandon Bergen, a pitcher from Brazoswood.
Lamar started off well in 2011 before stumbling down the stretch. Head Coach Jim Gilligan is entering his 35th year at the helm of the Cardinals, and looking for his 13th NCAA appearance with the help of returning aces Eric Harrington and Jonathan Dziedzic, who only combined for 11 games in 2011. Add in OF Jeff Abt and a heavy amount of junior college transfers, and Lamar could make noise in the Southland.
UTA returns two of their top hitters, as well as most of their starting pitchers and a bevy of relievers. Last year’s Mavericks were 5-5 against ranked opponents, but failed to make the conference tournament in part to a nine-game losing streak at the end of the season. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi put everything together at the right time in 2011 to garner a positive outlook in 2012. April started out with a 2-14 stretch, but the Islanders closed the regular season with a 12-1 run before falling one run short of a shot at the NCAA tournament. SS Jeramie Marek is back for his final tour, along with INF Bobby Buckner and C Santiago Ruiz. The pitching staff suffered major blows with the departures of Ian Campbell and Todd Simko, and the hiatus of Justin Meza, who will spend 2012 at Alvin Community College. Newcomers Jake Dziubczynski and Tim Beard will be called upon to help fill in the holes in the pitching staff.
Jace Peterson and Lee Orr are gone for McNeese, so the offensive production will rely on Seth Granger and Renny Weber. The top returning pitcher is Ryan Sampere, a righty who had a 3.66 ERA from the pen last season. The Cowboys will need to find some more arms if they hope to make it to San Marcos this season. Northwestern State has another season with CF Colin Bear and INF Nick Hinojos, their leading hitters from 2011. The Demons failed to make the SLC tournament last season, and aren’t expected to be there this year.
Nicholls’ highlight of 2011 was a victory over Texas State in the SLC tournament, but followed it up with a pair of heated losses against the Bobcats to end their season. The Colonels have plenty of hitters back, and retained the talents of RHP Seth Webster, on of the league’s top arms, but not much to give hope for a winning season.
Jonathan Davis is one of the top players in the league, but that is about it for Central Arkansas. The Bears, picked last among conference SIDs, will have an uphill battle this year to improve on last season’s 24-29 record.